It’s Thanksgiving again. Time to gather and give thanks for the many blessings we have.
Typically, this is a go-to habit for me. I love gratitude; it’s my superpower. My glass is not just half full, but I’m also grateful that I have a glass. And water. And I’m grateful that I’m grateful.
But today, I’m in a wee bit of a mood.
Gratitude is an emotion that feels very far off. When I search my heart for it, I feel like a kid trying to see a paramecium on a slide–I know it’s there but I can’t get it in focus. I move the slide under the microscope but my target just races past the lens.
It’s unnerving to not feel it.
This morning I sat in the midst of my non-gratitude and it occurred to me that I needed to befriend my emotions. And as soon as I had this thought, my emotions took on personalities that could rival the eccentricities (and dysfunction) of any Office episode.
There was Weariness, sitting in a chair staring vacantly out a window.
Self-pity had purple hair and a dog-collar. She chewed gum and complained with a Valley-girl accent.
Loneliness knocked at the door with the faintest little tap. When I opened the door to her, she stood there, a skinny waif with dirty knees and a torn dress. She spoke with a voice so quiet I had to strain to hear her.
And Gratitude, a silver-haired Grandma, was doing some laundry in the basement, conveniently avoiding the group in my living room.
I looked over this strange crew–my emotional family–and just as I was about to invite them all to my inner Thanksgiving meal, a loud, bossy woman entered the room.
Jealousy has copper-red hair and bright red lipstick. She speaks loudly and directly. She is so intimidating and self-righteous (with just the right amount of contempt) that she could convince me that my own name isn’t Julia.
When Jealousy entered the room, she started a litany of complaints about how unfair life is and how everyone else has so much more than she does. She interrupted, talked over, and bullied everyone into submission.
And, oddly, she rearranged the furniture.
Jealousy is the mean-girl of my emotional family.
How can I get all these players to quiet down enough for Gratitude to have a word?
These are the days when I have to work hard–when I have to practice gratitude.
Your first step: A gratitude list
When gratitude seems so distant that you’re sure it’s a marketing gimmick from Oprah, you need help from the another famous happiness guru–Mary Poppins.
Specifically, you need a Mary Poppins bag.
The first trick to pull out of your bag is to make a gratitude list.
Take five minutes and begin a list of everything you’re grateful for. Start small and go from there.
My lists have recurring items–my health, my kids, the precious time I have here on earth.
Usually it just takes a minute or two to get your list going and then it can be hard to stop.
But on other days… gratitude is very hard to find.
“I’m grateful for the time to write. I’m grateful for this notebook with it’s unusually white paper and crisp grey-blue lines. I’m not grateful for my pen–the ink fades and it’s not smooth enough. I’m sorta grateful to have a pen but actually, I wish I had a fancy expensive pen like my friend has and it’s not fair that she has one but I don’t…”
Hmmm… Three sentences and Jealousy pushed Gratitude aside and took over.
Step two: Give small thanks
The next trick in your magic bag is to be grateful for the smallest possible thing.
Forget big and lofty–think mini.
“I’m grateful that my coffee is still warm.”
Find the teeniest, tiniest little thing to be grateful for and build from there.
Let Gratitude come out from hiding at her own pace. Slowly. Cautiously.
Take baby steps.
Step three: Do something kind
Reach deep into your carpet bag and the next trick you’ll find is to do something good for someone else.
During the holidays, there are lots of opportunities. You can say a kind word, give a gift, or volunteer.
But if gratitude is really scarce, it’s hard to rally.
You’re just too dry.
So sit in a chair and send a good wish to someone.
Start with easy situations. It’s easy to send the hope that families in Syria find peace, children in foster care find love, and old people have health.
If you feel able, send wishes to people close to you–that your brother finds an investor for his business and that your neighbor gets relief from her anxiety.
Think about people whose grandchildren have heart conditions and friends who just found out they have the early stages of dementia.
Wish all of them that they will be happy and content.
It doesn’t seem like much. In fact, it can seem a little pointless.
But by wishing someone well, you change the subject in your mind. You soften. You shift your emotional family to something more positive. It’s like taking a walk when things get too intense.
On a good day, Gratitude takes this chance to find her voice.
But on a bad day, she still remains estranged from your inner family.
Now is the time to pull the last trick out of your carpet bag.
Step four: Act as if
So far, all of your tricks have tried to coax Gratitude from the basement. They have assumed that you could generate a feeling of gratitude to help you celebrate this time of Thanksgiving.
But if Gratitude won’t join the table, there’s only one thing left to do–fake it.
Even if you don’t feel it, gratitude is always a possibility. Maybe not now. Maybe not much of a possibility.
But at some unknown time and place, it’s possible that you’ll feel grateful. And based on this knowledge, act as if you feel it now. On Thanksgiving.
Set a place for Gratitude even if she doesn’t show up. Ask her what she wants for dessert even if she doesn’t answer.
Politely pretend like you are thankful.
Holidays can be a time of expectations. At Thanksgiving, you want to gather with loved ones and share a meal together. You imagine good times and a deep sense of appreciation for your blessings.
But reality doesn’t always match.
Instead of getting mad and grumbling your way through the holidays, give thanks for the gifts you have–whether you feel it or not.