Tis the season for giving thanks. But not everyone automatically feels thankful at Thanksgiving. For some, memories associated with Thanksgiving gatherings evoke feelings of anger and grief, sadness and loss. The essential question is this: Can you still give thanks even when your experience of the holiday won’t be a carefully curated, Instagram-worthy event?
Thanksgiving evokes a mixed bag of emotions for our clients. Some have been excluded from family gatherings in the past because of their addictions. Others have chosen to cut off contact with family members due to a history of trauma. As they share Thanksgiving dinner this year around the dining room tables at The Next Door, separated from their loved ones, many clients will be contemplating what their future sober holidays might look like.
If you are eagerly anticipating gathering with family and friends this Thanksgiving, you will likely be able to articulate grateful sentiments with ease. If, on the other hand, you are approaching this holiday with feelings of dread rather than delight, then expressing gratitude may be a challenge.
We all have seasons of life when words of thanksgiving don’t readily spring forth from our lips. Through practice, though, we can develop a mindset of gratitude that helps to ground us during difficult days. This kind of gratitude isn’t the toxic positivity that attempts to override feelings of pain and grief. This kind of gratitude gives us perspective that enables us to catch glimpses of beauty in the midst of chaos.
In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). At the beginning of 2022, I took these words to heart and decided to end each day by intentionally counting my blessings. When my head hits the pillow, I reflect on my day and identify ten things that I am thankful for – I literally count them off on my fingers. My nightly blessing list usually includes people I interacted with, things I observed in the natural world, something I ate, and something I experienced. This daily discipline helps me to fall asleep in a more peaceful state of mind.
Rachel Morris, TND’s Executive Director, also has an evening gratitude ritual. In her journal, she begins by recording all of the stressful things that are weighing heavily on her mind. Next, she lists three things she is thankful for. This practice allows Rachel to shift her focus from stress to gratitude.
If we are going to identify things for which we are grateful, then we must learn to pay attention throughout the day to the people and places and things that bring us joy and pleasure, hope and peace. Kelley Doyle, TND’s chaplain, is fond of Mary Oliver’s poem “Gratitude,” in which the poet poses a series of eight questions:
What did you notice?
What did you hear?
What did you admire?
What astonished you?
What would you like to see again?
What was most tender?
What was most wonderful?
What did you think was happening?
Kelley also finds that music enhances her experience of gratitude, especially the music and chants of Beautiful Chorus. Consider the lyrics of their hymn “Thank You for Your Blessings”:
Thank you for your blessings
Your guidance is wise indeed
Thank you for your blessings
Your lessons live on in me
Amanda Dunlap, TND’s Clinical Executive Director, intentionally takes time during this season of the year to call people whose wise guidance has influenced her life. Verbalizing appreciation to others is a wonderful practice that fosters a mindset of gratitude while also building others up.
One of the greatest gifts we can pass on to the next generation is a generous capacity for gratitude. Amanda’s family makes gratitude lists, including things big and small. As her two sons have grown, she has noticed how their expressions of gratitude have deepened each year. Rachel incorporates a gratitude practice during car rides with her three daughters. When she says, “Gratitude Attitude,” they chime in with things they are thankful for in that moment.
How can you incorporate specific practices into your life that will help you to nurture a mindset of gratitude? Here are a few additional ideas for your consideration:
- Develop a playlist of songs that kindle feelings of gratitude toward God and others.
- Create a gratitude collage featuring images and words that remind you of the people, places, and things for which you are grateful.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Check out the free printable template available through Sage Grayson’s website.
- Incorporate expressions of gratitude into existing rituals, like mealtimes. Consider purchasing and downloading these mealtime prayer cards created by Traci Smith.
- Download and print these Gratitude Gobblers designed by Sybil McBath and use them at a Thanksgiving gathering. Children (and adults) can color them while naming things they are thankful for.
- Read Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass and download the companion seven-day guide to gratitude.
Diana Butler Bass writes in Grateful: “Gratitude is resilience of sorts, the defiance of kindness in the face of anger, of connection in the face of division, and of hope in the face of fear . . . Gratitude empowers us. It makes joy and love possible. It rearranges the way we see and experience what is all around us. Gratitude makes all things new.”
May gratitude empower you to finish 2022 with renewed resilience and a refilled reservoir of joy.