The last of the mashed potatoes have been scraped from the Tupperware, the can shaped cranberry sauce somehow looks even more like a science experiment as the gelatinous blob splatters in the trash can. Every remnant of Thanksgiving is gone.
Are we still thankful?
For many, the spirit of giving, kindness, and joy lasts through December. Suddenly when the last string of tangled lights has been placed back in it’s designated box to collect dust into until next year, we seem to pack that sense of joy, gratefulness, and compassion along with it.
I thought about this as the stuffing, pumpkin pie, and green bean casserole rumble in my stomach. It’s easy to be grateful when we’re reminded to be. Now, I don’t think this is because humans are innately selfish or ungrateful. I reflect on the countless sessions I’ve had with patients and many stressors, obstacles, traumas, and heartbreak fill our daily lives. Something I find myself echoing to many patients when they express shame, or even guilt about seeking treatment is that: we live hard lives. It can be argued that many of those stressors are ‘first world problems’ and they might be, but it doesn’t make them any less real when we experience them.
We live in a world where we’re expected to work harder, work longer hours and to be constantly connected to our jobs. We’re inundated with carefully curated photos that convince us that everyone but us lives the perfect, magical, happy-at-all-times lives. Heavily edited and filtered photos cover our screens, and tell us no one else has wrinkles, or cellulite, or blemishes. We see nothing but smiling picture perfect families that tell us we must be awful parents because our kids would never wear those disgusting saccharinely sweet matching pajama sets, let alone smile together in the same picture.
All of these stressors don’t disappear during the holidays, however at this time went tend to be more generous and patient, often we donate more of our time and money. Most people at some point during the holiday season will sit around the table with loved ones and share something we’re thankful for. The calendar turning to November doesn’t magically change the stressors and challenges we have, however one thing is different. We are essentially forced to reflect on what we have to be thankful for, whereas the rest of the year we don’t often have similar prompting.
Our perception and thoughts are powerful things. Our thoughts and beliefs are much like the old saying “birds of a feather flock together,” or “like attracts like.” The more negative or irrational thoughts we have, the more they seem to multiply, the same being true for positive thoughts.
One trick that I like to teach patients is how the change of a very simple word in our thinking can alter our entire perception. Changing “have” to “get” can completely change the context and our thinking of a situation.
Flipping, “I have to go to work today,” to “I get to go to work today” elicits a very different feeling. It makes me think of something my dad said years ago while he was working a job that came with some pretty severe stressors, “I might not like my work, but if I didn’t have a job, I’d sure want this one.”
During the holiday season we’re literally told to ‘give thanks’ or ‘be thankful’ hundreds of times. I find the happiest people are the ones who think of something to be grateful for the instant their feet hit the floor in the morning.
So give thanks this holiday season, and enjoy the festivities, but especially if you’re struggling with any kind of mental or emotional pain, I invite you to accept the challenge of starting every day, this holiday season and beyond, with something, no matter how small, that you can be grateful for.
You might find it’s not as hard to face the work day, your kids aren’t as exhausting, you may just feel better about yourself and life overall.
And with that… I’m thankful for you reading this 😉