Being Thankful at Thanksgiving

Being thankful at Thanksgiving. It sounds clichéd, I know. But really think about what it means. It means not just being thankful for the things you have, but also for the people you have and the time you’ve been given with them. This phrase and the sentiment behind it do not mean that you might not have crap days and crap situations. Everybody does. It’s being thankful and grateful in spite of the things that don’t work out exactly the way you want.

I want to tell you about a woman I know who was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Around the same time that she was going through the depression stage, she found out that her husband was cheating on her. She told me yesterday that everyone she knew told her she was crazy to leave him. After I got over my shock of her rearranged circumstances and really thought about it, I realized that she was in fact not crazy at all. Jessica* left everything behind besides her children and clothes. Who wouldn’t think she had gone off the deep end? You know what she told be her rationale was? She didn’t want any question of support, financial or otherwise when it came to her life. She knew that she could do it all on her own. And so far she has. Not to say that it has always been easy, but it’s been almost a year and she’s still doing it.

What she also told me was that her cancer was a blessing. Not in the normal way where something good happens to you and you reap the benefits, but rather in the way where a bad thing happens but good comes of it. “When you have cancer, you really learn who’s there for you. I’m glad it happened.” Because the option was that she would never have known, and her husband would have continued to cheat without getting caught.

This is the kind of “make lemonade when life gives you lemons” situation that makes you really think about what’s good and bad in your life. This strong, intelligent, beautiful woman has taken a truly horrendous situation and rather than dwelling on the worst aspects has focused instead on the great.

Jessica’s outlook is one that we could really all stand to share. I know that I’m good at seeing the glass-half-empty side of life. So when we’re reminded to be thankful for what we have at Thanksgiving, what we’re really being reminded to do is to think of the half-full side of the glass. Maybe everything isn’t perfect, but what is it that you have that still brings you joy? Which parts of your life are the good ones? This is the time of year to focus on those and not on the things that aren’t so shiny. Don’t even think of it this way: “Oh, X in my life is really bad but at least I have Y.” No. Don’t even think about the icky not-so-good parts (X). You don’t have to justify your happiness by thinking about other bad things that are unrelated and saying that the good things (Y) are only good “in spite of” the bad. The good things can be good on their own merits. Like family, or your pets, or your health, or your book deal, or WHATEVER!

I know what you’re about to say: it’s not any good to repress thinking about the bad things. I’m not even suggesting a full-stop avoidance of any issues you might have. What I’m suggesting is that you (and I’ll do the same thing if you will) willfully focus only on the good, even for just a short period of time. Smile more. Do the things you like to do with the people whose company you enjoy. Eat the pie. Sleep in. You might just find a solution to your problems after you adjust your focus. And even if you don’t? You’ll still have the elevated mood that goes along with enjoying yourself.

So what’s that mean for Thanksgiving and the holidays specifically? In my experience, Thanksgiving is one of the most dramatic holidays. People dread it more than Christmas shopping. I’m proposing that this year, we all simply enjoy a hassle-free holiday by focusing on the good rather than the not-so-good. Try to be content, at least for one day. Reflect on the things that are wonderful, and the simple things. By doing so we might find a measure of peace that could last us the rest of the year.

*names have been changed.

Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2015