Gratitude should come more than once a year

For my American readers, this week is home to my favorite holiday of them all: Thanksgiving. If you were unaware, my religious affiliation is vaguely Buddhist with a side of “I don’t really care, God probably isn’t real, but if that makes you happy that’s cool”. This is one of the major reasons Christmas isn’t the winner of holidays for me (and obviously rules out Easter, as well, though I am highly amused/frustrated by the amount of pagan traditions each of these Christian holidays steal). If my birthday was a national holiday, obviously it would win. And Halloween is a pretty close second but my relationship with Halloween is also a little complex.

So other than the detriment of other holidays, why Thanksgiving? Because other than Thanksgiving being unsullied by weird memories or religion, it’s all about my three favorite things: good food, good people, good thoughts.

Regardless your relationship with turkey, there’s always going to be at least one thing hitting your table that you’re stoked about. Or maybe you go to a buffet for Thanksgiving. I’m only judging a little bit (let people be with their goddamn families for holidays, please). Maybe you crack open a cold one with the boys and eat Cheeze-Whiz since apparently the sale of it is higher during Thanksgiving than any other time of year. Weirdos. Whatever you’re ingesting, one major theme of the day is feast. Of course, back in the day this was because everything was harvested and the lean times of winter were coming. Now we keep the tradition because who doesn’t want an excuse to cook wonderful, warm, filling foods?

Maybe your relationship with food is a little more complex. I have my own qualms with the “food coma” mentality – though I do have an appreciation for making a meal so bountiful and early in the day that you get to eat it twice. Second breakfast? More like second dinner, baby! If this isn’t your jam, it’s cool. Hopefully, instead, you get to look forward to Thanksgiving element number two: good people.

Because whether you’re hanging out with your dogs or forcing yourself to not spout liberal lies like “climate change is real” around your extended family, you hopefully have at least one living being there that you love. And any excuse to hang out with those that mean the most to you should be celebrated! Back in the day, we did a Friendsgiving featuring spanking the turkey and copious amounts of wine. Probably my most favorite memory with my sister is sitting around the table, belting out Disney songs in our tipsy state, seeing who could remember more lyrics. For one glorious evening, everything was peaceful and perfect.

Of course, both of these things really tie into the third and perhaps most important tenet of Thanksgiving: good thoughts.

Gratitude is vastly underrated in modern life. Not that the never-ending cycle of “never enough” is a new human phenomenon. With the advent of the internet being in our grubby, gravy-soaked palms, we’re always seeing things we don’t have, people we can’t hang out with, places we can’t go. Even if everything’s perfectly fine in our lives, we’re never satisfied. I’ll hold back on the Buddhist-related tangent about the truth of unsatisfactoriness for your sake but, fuck, is it relevant here.

For one blessed day, we all are asked to take a moment to sit and think about things we do have, people we do get to hang out with, and places we are able to go. We take a breath and say, “You know what? It ain’t all bad after all.”

You know what I’m grateful for? Good tea. The internet. The education I’ve received. Running water. Meditation. The therapy I’ve received. My space heater. My computer. My mother getting her own apartment. My mother herself. My in-laws for taking her in while we go through this arduous process and making the life Nicholas and I have possible. My husband, for working so hard so I can focus on my novel and degree. My cat. My friends. My health. My sanity. My access to health care at a relatively affordable price. My freedom. My autonomy. My favorite scarves. I could go on and on and on because I try really, really hard to think about this list of wonderful things I have going on in my life more often than the last Thursday of November.

And this has all been a really roundabout way of me saying that you should, too. I’m a big supporter of “Attitude Gratitude” because I absolutely guarantee it will make you happier. You don’t even have to believe me on this, Harvard’s got it covered. It’s pretty basic science: focusing on the good promotes more positive brain chemistry. Is this going to cure depression and water your crops? No. But it’s going to do a lot more for you than constantly focusing on what irks you or what’s missing from your life.

So consider trying to make giving thanks a part of your daily routine, or maybe even just weekly. It was one of the motivating factors for me attending Unitarian Universalist church. They have something in their order of service called “joys and concerns”, where depending on the individual church you may light a candle, or incense, or place a stone, or something else to represent your joy or concern and optionally share it with the congregation. Even if you don’t physically get up and go light a candle, I’ve found this quiet moment is an easy gentle reminder to think of the joys and concerns in your life. For me, I think of at least one of each. Concerns are always easy. And with practice, joys became easier, too.

Daily meditation is a pretty easy way to incorporate this into your daily routine but I won’t preach. You could do it during your morning coffee or your post work poop. The logistics don’t matter. I’m weirdly in support of prayer before meals because of its relation to giving thanks. My mother saying, “Dear God, thank you for this food,” doesn’t bother me because she’s expressing gratitude in her own way. If I eat meat, I take a moment to mentally thank the animal that gave its life so that I may have sustenance. If I’m really on the ball, it extends to the farmers who cared for it, the person who did the packaging, the driver who took it to the store, the stocker who put it on the shelves, the cashier who rang it up for me. This can be a bit much to remember but it is kind of a wild exercise every once in a while – how many people were involved so that you could just drive to a store, pick out a thing, give them your digital currency, and eat practically whatever you want? If that doesn’t make you grateful for the life you have, I don’t know what else would.

Whatever you do, any step towards being more aware and hopefully even more vocal about your appreciation is a good step. All or nothing mentality is defeatist and harmful. Don’t worry about suddenly expressing gratitude every day, every meal, every whatever. Just try to incorporate it more and the odds are it will manifest naturally more often.

So, before I let you go on with your holiday week, one last thing:

Thank you for reading.

I appreciate you.

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