Thanksgiving seems innocuous enough: we get together with family and ‘give thanks’ but let’s be honest: it is rarely as easeful as it is in movies. This year is no different. Airports are congested, the “tripledemic” of COVID-19, RSV, and influenza on the rise is no joke, and for many of us, as we break bread, we will be reminded of the schisms between us: old uncle “Jack,” will reliably pontificate ad nauseam of the different philosophies and ideas that illustrate the political abyss between us. These polarities and annoyances can burn up whatever goodwill remains from our avoiding going apoleptic while the Uber we were in dodged traffic earlier. Amirite?
Let’s take a big collective breath and consider how can we improve the experience of our holiday. As we acknowledge the fissures in our lives and the world at large, we can take inventory of what compels us to feel gratitude. Musician Leonard Cohen famously wrote,
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
Let’s let some light in. Share a little humor. Ignite a sweet spark.
Thanksgiving itself isn’t without its own controversy. It has a bloody history and acts as a reminder of the injustices that Native Americans have faced for centuries. Plus, if we really want to get meta, this meal itself exploits how native cultures have been appropriated and is certainly, it’s not a happy day for turkeys across the country. Just sayin’.
As we take this all in, we can also rededicate ourselves to acknowledging the dark while honoring the light, allowing both to be true at once. We can enjoying giving thanks, a ritual that most of us love about the holiday while acknowledging that light still needs to be let in. How? Starting a new habit of consciously, offering up thanks.
Expressing gratitude is not exclusive to Thanksgiving day: it’s useful every day, even when you’re in the throes of preparing for an upcoming exam. In this case, feeling grateful can be vital to your best performance. Now might be the perfect time to incorporate a gratitude journal into your routine.
Are you grateful for you and your family’s health? Happy with a supportive family, romantic partner, amazing dog, or a glimmer of stability in this turbulent world? And simultaneously are you willing to ask yourself, where in your life do you want to let more ‘light’ in? Either or both might be courageous.
Keeping a journal or diary helps us reorient and supercharging it with being focused on gratitude can be a game changer. Journaling can also be a meditative practice to focus and go inward. At least here in North America, the cold weather and early darkness provide the perfect scenario for this kind of reflection! Feeling gratitude actually unleashes a chemical reaction that encourages positive feelings in your body. In a wonderful 2017 Positive Psychology.com article, Benefits of Gratitude: 28+ Surprising Research Findings, the authors share many studies about being grateful. One study shared that journaling for five minutes a day about what we are grateful for can enhance our long-term happiness by over 10% (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). Another study showed that those who are more grateful have access to a wider social network, more friends, and better relationships on average (Amin, 2014). Bring it on, right?
So how do you start a gratitude journal? The first step is to put a notebook somewhere where you can reach it easily and predictably, for instance, on your nightstand or where you drink your morning joe. Each morning and night, plan on writing for at least 5 -10 minutes. Put it in your calendar and set your alarm clock accordingly!
Each morning, you can create a list of what you feel grateful for and can also consider the following for your upcoming day:
- Describe why you will have an awesome day
- List the tasks you will commit or complete during the day
- What you will improve
- Remind yourself what made you smile, yesterday
At night, you can create a list of what you feel grateful for as well, and report the following:
- Something awesome that occurred today
- Something you learned
- What would have made your day better
- Something you’re looking forward to tomorrow
The key is to promote an abundance of gratitude rather than bemoan what you ‘lack.’ Keep this process short; this is meant to upgrade your outlook, orientation, and attitude. While you’re at it, remind yourself of what you’re thankful for in general, and hopefully, if it serves you, carve out time to rest and relax during the holiday.
Happy Thanksgiving, Thanks-taking,
and Happy Thanks-letting-the-light-in.
(And stay safe out there.)
Amin, A. (2014). The 31 benefits of gratitude you didn’t know about: How gratitude can change your life. Happier Human. Retrieved from http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. Tidsskrift for Norsk Psykologforening, 42, 874-884.