“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.”
— Melody Beattie
Ah, Thanksgiving here in the U.S.
The time of year when we gather to stuff ourselves with turkey or tofurkey (!) and pumpkin pie …
And—when we’re doing it right—pausing long enough between bites to be thankful.
This year, Thanksgiving feels especially necessary. Even if the concept of gratitude during a year that’s generally agreed to be one of the worst ever feels . . . odd.
Particularly if we’re gathering with loved one and staying a minimum distance of 6 feet away … the awkwardness just gets weirder.
2020 has been a year for the books, no doubt about it.
Social unrest continues to rise worldwide. Record-breaking wildfires wreaked havoc in Australia and the United States. COVID-19 is definitely NOT going away yet and seems to be getting worse … AND there was even an actual plague of locusts in East Africa . . .
And yet, there are things to be grateful for. Yes, in 2020.
This week, let’s ditch the anxiety and negativity that dominate our social media feeds and 24-hour news cycle.
You don’t need to slap on rose-colored glasses or check out of reality.
It’s about accepting ALL of what is—not just the stuff that keeps us awake at night.
Because there IS good stuff, too. And giving the good stuff some air time is a nice change of pace … and can even heal our hearts and bring us closer.
NEGATIVITY BIAS IS REAL
National Geographic put out a fantastic article called “Why every year—but especially 2020—feels like the worst ever.”
It’s all about the tendency our brains have to focus on the negative over the positive. It’s one of those ancient survival mechanisms that doesn’t really help us today as much as it makes us anxious and depressed.
And funnily enough, as much as we focus on what’s negative in the present, we also tend to glorify the past. It’s why we hold on so hard to scraps of paper, old toys, and stuff that doesn’t add value to our lives.
It’s also why, a few months after ditching that no-good ex who took your money and cheated on you, you start to miss the good times . . . Why did you break up with them, again?!
While you can’t completely change your brain and your place in the evolution of the species, you can work with the wiring we’ve got, and that ability to influence our experience CAN be a wonderful thing.
Heck, for all of our relentless attention on fear, our brains are the reason we can feel gratitude in the first place.
So, when you’re looking back over the past year—wondering what the hell there is to be thankful for—take a moment to pause.
Remember that negativity bias is real, so appreciate something that’s going right for you, right now.
Even if it’s only that your most annoying family member is sitting on the OTHER end of the table.
I will often remind myself that “everything is always working out for me” right when I’m in the middle of catastrophizing.
So when taking an inventory of the year, be sure to include the assets and not just all the losses to get a full picture of where you’re at today.
We “theme” seasons because it gives structure to our lives. We harvest in the fall and give thanks for the bounty we’ve pulled from the earth. Then we hunker down in the winter and rest.
We start to build momentum again in the spring as life pushes off the cold and bursts out of the ground, and then soak up the sun’s energy and grow fast during the long days of summer.
But positive qualities like gratitude and generosity work like muscles.
If you only go to the gym a few times a year, it’s going to feel hard every time you go. Your muscles will be sore for days afterward, and working up the energy to go back will be difficult.
It’s the same way with thankfulness. Yes, it’s wonderful to have a day each year (and even a season) when we can come together and be thankful.
It’s better still to make gratitude a daily habit.
Research shows that gratitude is good for you. You don’t need to keep a gratitude journal—unless you want to. But turning gratitude into a regular practice will work wonders for your relationships, health, and mood.
And when autumn rolls around, you won’t have any trouble coming up with things to be thankful for. Tough year or no.
MAKE A LIST
You might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, Andrew, but my life has gone down the toilet this year.”
Maybe 2020 WAS your worst year ever.
Many of us have lost jobs, homes, and loved ones. Maybe you’ve lost all three and more besides.
Most major religions and spiritual practices have something to say about acceptance. It’s a core tenet of Eastern philosophies like Buddhism.
Acceptance is not the same as resignation. In fact, it’s the opposite. You can’t do anything about what is until you accept it first.
So I’m not suggesting you force yourself to look on the “bright side” of 2020—that may feel impossible to do.
Instead, you may want to start by accepting everything that sucked this year.
If it helps you, write it all down and get it all out there.
And once that’s finished, there will still be room to make a list of things to be grateful for. They could be small things, or big things. But/and there will definitely be things.
And it could be that you at first can only find one thing.
Great—start with that one thing.
It could be as simple as the very fact that you can read this right now. It doesn’t matter what you choose, or where you start. Just that you start at all.
Here’s a list of things I’m grateful for to get you started:
- My health
- Shelter over my head
- The relationships that support me, including friends and family
- Right livelihood and the ability to be of service
- Favorite books, movies, TV shows, and music
- The sun every time it shines
- Nutritious food that stimulates my senses and feeds my body
- Small kindnesses, particularly from strangers
- Productive days collaborating with my team
- A connection to something larger and beyond myself
- The amazing technology that keeps me connected every day
- The ability to move around the world by foot, bicycle, or car
THE BOTTOM LINE
Has everything been perfect and rosy this year? Not by a long shot.
It’s been a hard year for many of us, and no one knows what 2021 will bring.
I’d never suggest that you gloss over hardship, disappointment or heartache.
As a native Detroiter and adopted New Yorker, that’s definitely not how I do things.
And you don’t have to make up stories to turn a pile of crap into something it’s not.
Sometimes things just suck.
And other times, things don’t. And even sometimes when things suck, they don’t ONLY suck.
And that’s the point.
We all know that 2020 was a tough year. Harping on that point . . . is not going to make it less crappy.
The more compelling choice is accepting what happened and finding things to be thankful for as well.
And then see if you try really hard, if you can come up with more than one.
Social media news feeds can drown out the good stuff in our lives if we aren’t careful. If your digital life is making gratitude harder than it needs to be, check out my recorded masterclass on Mastering Your Digital Life.