I have a confession to make.
I am not, by nature, a grateful person. I get uncomfortable when someone says “Thank you” too much (looking at you Canadians) and frequently catch myself trying to remember if I actually said “Thank you” out loud to someone for an act of kindness.
I also may be known to gently mock my family for cheesy Thanksgiving traditions like saying what you are thankful for while the delicious turkey gets cold. And my wife might say I am less than enthusiastic about the handprint thankfulness tree we do every November.
When someone asks me what I am thankful for, I struggle to go deeper than the automatic answer of “family”. If pressed, I could tack on “friends” depending on how I’m feeling about my people that day.
And saying I’m grateful for things like sunsets and cool breezes on hot days or the feeling of sand between my toes makes me feel like a new age flower child who needs to bathe my feet. Not that there is anything wrong with new age flower children; it just is not me.
Second confession: I also am prone to anxiety and depressed states. To feeling like life just sucks and no good exists in the world anymore. I become despondent about the lack of time I have to devote to things I love or the lack of parking at Costco. I’m prone to feeling panicky over whether I am raising my children correctly and over what my son’s obsession with picking his nose says about me as a father.
Inevitably, these mood states lead to some unhealthy behavior. I eat too much and drink too much and binge cooking shows on Netflix while eating and drinking too much. I snap at those I am closest to and nitpick faults in friends and family. Generally, I become an unpleasant person who slogs through life.
I make a lot of excuses for the moods I find myself in and the resulting bad behavior. I blame circumstances. I blame others. I blame global warming. After a while, I turn it inward and beat myself up, certain of my own hideousness.
But then I remember gratitude and the power it has. I remember that gratitude does not have to be a Pollyanna solution, sugarcoating all the difficult problems of life. It can be meaningful and deep, simple and impactful. I remember how it has been shown to improve physical, emotional, and social health, building self-esteem and decreasing stress, anxiety and depression.
And so I give it a try again. I break out the gratitude journal, start making the lists again. Dig deep and reach once more for gratefulness. I try to fixate on my people’s faces instead of their behaviors. I shift my focus to the things I do have, rather than the things I don’t. I remember how blessed I am to do work I find meaningful. I watch fewer cooking shows and more videos of soldiers coming home to surprised loved ones.
And, inevitably, that reach for gratefulness is rewarded. It does not solve all my problems but I do sleep better. I get out of my head and act more with my heart. My anxious thoughts settle down and I smile a lot more. Overall, my world looks and feels better.
So this Thanksgiving, I’ll try to roll my eyes less as we gather around the table and share what we are thankful for. I know I need this yearly reminder to re-focus my attention and incorporate gratitude daily. I wish gratitude was a one-time affair; only necessary for turkey day. But I know I am kidding myself. I need gratitude. It makes me a better person, a better husband, father, therapist.
But I will not pretend gratitude comes easy for me. No, I have to fight for it. To demand it has a place at the table. If I do not fight for it, gratitude slips away too easily. And even if all I can come up with is thankfulness for sunsets and cool breezes, the fight is worth it.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
If you are struggling to with anxiety or depression, or just need tips on how to be grateful, we’d love to help. We strive to make the first step into counseling the easiest and offer a risk-free initial appointment where we help you determine which of our amazing therapists would be a good fit for you. If you are not completely satisfied, you owe nothing and we will even help you get connected with a therapist outside our practice.
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