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How to Find Thankfulness in 2020

I was really hoping to feel more thankful post-election. I was optimistic that we would be further along in understanding this virus, that our country would experience a smooth electoral transition no matter who won and that we would recognize a clear path to healing as a society.

Thanksgiving, a time that has brought families and friends together for hundreds of years now, looks different.  State leaders have placed limitations, some of which are draconian, on how many people at one time may celebrate this truly American holiday; on where a celebration is acceptable; and for how long we may all give thanks before curfew kicks in and sends us home. Clearly the festive ‘cheer’ is designed to be muted.

So HOW do we find our thankfulness in trying times such as these?

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  1. Keep Perspective – This too shall pass. Americans have been through tougher times than these and have emerged stronger because of it:  The Great Depression, World Wars I and II, the Spanish Flu, September 11, etc . . .  It may be a cliche, but it is true. In times of trouble the best solution is to count your blessings. As a child after my parents divorced, there were several years where we were homeless, bouncing from home to home at the mercy of generous friends. During those times food was not plentiful. Several times we were forced to eat dinner at a homeless shelter.  (It wasn’t bad. I did not like the limp beans, but the rolls were good.) Nevertheless, none of those poor circumstances were permanent. I fought my way through them, and many others have done the same. Today is not forever.
  1. Share Love – There is a lot of pain in this world. I encounter it daily in my clinical practice–sexual abuse, mental illness, poor health, addiction, etc . . .  With so much hurt, we need to create moments of loving gifts to others. Write short notes of love, peace and compassion and place it on cars, send to random addresses, or share on social media. When I was in second grade, I had a teacher who recognized the problems I was having at home, even though I never said a word to her or anyone else. One day she gave me a jellybean necklace. No specific reason. It wasn’t my birthday; I hadn’t won a school contest. She simply wanted me to have it. I still have it. A simple gesture of caring can truly make that big of a difference. Try it.
  1. Create Opportunities – Loneliness and need are year-round, but because the holiday season is about family and celebration, that emptiness feels even greater during this time. Find food banks or shelters and volunteer your time.  Set up a neighborhood drive for blankets or coats for those less fortunate. There is nothing more gratifying than knowing you have helped others.  
  1. Believe in Magic – “If you build it, he will come.”  This is not just a line from a famous baseball movie. It is also a mindset for life. Believe your efforts and those of others will produce wonders, and chances are they will. Call it Karma, the Law of Positive Attraction, whatever. The name is irrelevant. What is important is that the world appears to be designed to operate in that manner. We need to become like children again in that way. For example, I remember one year as a child my family could not afford to buy a Christmas tree. My mom took a ream of paper and a box of Crayola crayons and said, “Well, we have to build our tree or Santa is not going to come.” Cynically, I followed my mother’s request and drew the best Christmas tree I could and taped it to the wall. Then I took the socks off my feet and laid them on the table to serve as stockings. On my way to bed my mom told me that we have a lot to be thankful for and that Santa would come. I awoke the next morning to candy canes and some mandarin oranges stuffed in my socks. At the time I believed it was total magic–and in a way it was because it gave me hope to believe in goodness and in the possibilities of life. To this day I only buy Crayola brand crayons.
  1. Give Thanks – Why not sit down and list all the things you are grateful for this year, despite the negativity around us?  This year we need that reminder more than ever. For example, I am grateful for my husband and two children, my health and career success, and my friends and family. I am also grateful for those childhood experiences of homelessness and poverty. They made me stronger and more appreciative of the things I own today. I am a better parent because of it . . . and more importantly a better human being.

And remember, we all experienced the greatest gift of all this morning: the gift of life. The elderly are thankful each day when they awaken, recognizing that one day they will not—and there is nothing they can do to prevent it or plan for it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone, no matter their age, awakened every morning with that same gratitude?   

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