Like so many things about this year, Thanksgiving 2020 will stand apart.
And not in the ways we’d like.
Between the pandemic, economic hardships and political turmoil, one doesn’t have to be overly creative to justify a lack of thankfulness right now.
Yet this would miss the entire point of the Thanksgiving holiday. After all, if the Pilgrims had waited for life to be smooth and easy before holding their first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621, this rich American tradition wouldn’t exist today.
Of course, this doesn’t negate the legitimacy of any sadness you may be feeling if you there’ll be empty seats around your Thanksgiving table this year. Like all emotions, sadness has its place and serves a purpose. Yet dwelling on what is wrong or missing doesn’t serve our emotional wellbeing. In fact, just the opposite.
Science has caught up with what ancient wisdom has long espoused – that ‘giving thanks’ is medicinal.
In fact research shows that practicing gratitude – actively being thankful for the blessings in our lives, regardless of the circumstances of our lives – is not just a nice ‘feel good’ thing to do but actually enhances our wellbeing and ameliorates against mental illness. A study at Berkeley found that people who regularly practice gratitude are mentally healthier, happier, and build an ‘emotional bank account’ for the times when they have fewer blessings to count.
The quality of our emotions shapes the quality of our lives.
The more often we feel any emotion, the more space it occupies in our psyche. Over time, the emotions we repeatedly feel morph into a ‘mood’ that filters all our perceptions of life. As Tony Robbins says, “The quality of your life is where you live emotionally.”
For better or worse. For richer or poorer. For happier or… not so much.
It’s why, in these turbulent times, we must be all the more mindful about the stories we tell ourselves about our circumstances because our stories trigger and amplify our emotional state. For instance, if you tell yourself a story that life is conspiring against you, that you’re a victim to some villainous force (or a cadre of them) then you’ll live in state of self-pity, blame, despair, bitterness or powerlessness. On the flip-side, if you tell yourself a story that you’re blessed in countless ways (and then count those ways), that life is conspiring for you (even when you can’t see how), and that the future is yours for the making, then you’ll fuel gratitude, aspiration and agency to proactively create that future.
Gratitude takes practice.