This year I’ve been trying to work on gratitude. I’m not very good at writing it down — things that I’m grateful for — because it almost gives me weird test anxiety. I worry that I’m not including the right things, or that my list is too repetitive. I just didn’t care for it. But I do like the idea of being more open to gratitude. For me, I tend to understand it as a feeling, and I’m trying to be better about noticing that feeling. Noticing that a sunset is gorgeous and I’m grateful to witness it. Noticing how content I feel while curled up on the couch with my cats and a good book. But even using these examples makes me feel uncomfortable — should these be the things I’m supposed to notice, or are they too cliche? Does it matter?
I’ve read in so many places that gratitude is important. But the details on what to do with it are pretty vague. We’re supposed to work on it, and practice gratitude. But besides recognizing an emotion, what else should it involve? What does it look like to adequately demonstrate gratitude? I know saying “thank you” is important. But sometimes it’s either difficult to express, or just not sufficient. Plus, I admit, I’m not great at expressing myself emotionally anyway. Usually that looks a lot like getting flustered and teary-eyed when I’m mad. But I’m just as bad at giving thanks.
Sure, I try to remember to say “thank you” in transactional exchanges — thanking the kid that bags my groceries at the store, thanking a barista or server, as examples. But how do I thank friends or family for something like emotional support? Oof. Just saying “thank you” doesn’t seem to make sense. And gratitude of a social nature requires a level of vulnerability that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I can simultaneously realize that I value the relationships in my life AND not want to tell them. Oops.
No wonder the idea of Thanksgiving stresses me out. I definitely enjoy getting together with family and eating a delicious meal. But we don’t really have any traditions or rituals about giving formal thanks. And honestly, the few times I can remember being asked “what are you thankful for this year?” I tend to panic answer, “this dessert.” Cool.
So I think Thanksgiving is important, but I’m worried I’ve become just a little cynical about it.
The only way I can think to remedy this is to lean in to the holiday. I’ve decided that Thanksgiving, not unlike Halloween or Christmas, should be celebrated in the approach. I think this November I’m going to take a moment each day to really reflect on the year, and practice gratitude. This won’t be super formal, like a ritual, but it will be intentional. Then, on Thanksgiving, I think I will try to shift focus from contemplation to celebration and being thankful with others.
I almost mean to turn it into an early New Year’s Eve. But rather than focus on the future and new beginnings, I’m hoping that at Thanksgiving I will take a moment to celebrate the good things that happened this year and the gratitude that came with it…It’s not a contest or competition or a test. It should just be like a comfortable, chill party, with good food and great company…
Actually, that sounds pretty reasonable. In fact, it sounds a lot like Thanksgiving as it already is…
Maybe I just need to be more grateful.
I’m not going ask you to share your Thanksgiving traditions (unless you want to!), but if you want to read more about gratitude (that is written a lot better), I highly recommend Diana Butler Bass’ Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. A perfect Thanksgiving read!