Things to Be Thankful For (Yes, Even Now)
While the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday will undoubtedly look different from other years, there’s still plenty of room for gratitude. In fact, it’s arguably more important to search for things to be thankful for this year. Why?
Research on being thankful shows that there’s a really strong link between gratitude and overall well-being. Gratitude has been shown to actually activate the medial prefrontal cortex and make lasting effects on the brain. The same neural networks responsible for pleasure, stress reduction, and emotional regulation light up when we practice thankfulness. Being thankful is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety, drug and nicotine addictions, and eating disorders.
If that’s still not enough to convince you to practice gratitude, consider this: when you find things to be thankful for, you set an example for your little ones. Children that learn gratitude practices are more resilient and less aggressive, have improved self esteem and mental health, are more optimistic, and sleep better. Whew! Sounds like it’s time to start “counting our blessings.”
Being Thankful for Nature
If there’s one thing many of us were reminded of this year, it’s how much nature can do for the soul. A lot of us are used to primarily indoor activities -- on our screens for entertainment, in gyms and fitness studios for exercise, in our offices for work. Many don’t get much outdoor time unless we’re on vacation and even then, the temptation to be “plugged in” can keep us indoors more than we’d like.
So when the pandemic hit and most of our workplaces, gyms, restaurants, movie theatres, and museums shut down, we had a fresh opportunity to turn to our natural environment. With social distancing in place and CDC recommendations to prioritize outdoor activities, many of us started walking or hiking or biking outside for exercise. We took our kids on strolls through the woods or the park. We opted to go camping during summer vacations instead of staying in hotels or going to theme parks.
People spend more than 90% of their time indoors but studies show that 120 mins of exposure to nature per week has a significant impact on health. Across the nation, people have reported getting back in touch with their natural environments and finding appreciation in the small elements (the colors of flowers, the view from a hill, the feel of the breeze.) While none of us would choose the situation our world is facing now, we can definitely be thankful for nature being there to ease our stress load.
Being Thankful for Family and Friends
We want to pause and acknowledge that many people have lost loved ones this year, and that their absence will be felt throughout the holidays. It’s important to go through the grieving process -- by no means do we condone stuffing emotion. That said, we do believe that there are things to be thankful for in regards to our families and friends, and that it’s crucial to practice this kind of gratitude. If you’ve lost someone this year, how can you honor them during the holidays? Are there traditions you can uphold? Can everyone go around the table and mention a favorite memory?
Many of us have had opportunities unlike any other this year. We might be “stuck” at home with our kids all day. We might have needed a lot more emotional support from our partners. We might only be connecting with friends via Zoom meetings. All of these things have been challenging, of course, but they’ve also provided the chance to be grateful for things we may never have realized before.
We’ve heard about working parents that, in spite of the burden of working remotely and helping facilitate school for their kiddos, are grateful they’re getting to see their children all day long. We’ve heard stories of marriages that have weathered the storm, with spouses and partners finding even more depth in their relationships. Groups of friends have overcome obstacles and gotten creative in all sorts of ways, just to be able to connect with one another. For all these things, we can be thankful.
Being Thankful for Resources
It’s true -- the systems in the United States are far from perfect. But where can you find things to be thankful for as someone living in America in this day and age? For instance, you might be pinching pennies because you’ve lost an income in your home. At the same time, you may have pretty easy access to transportation... to a grocery store and to a wide variety of food at all times of the year… to clean drinking water and indoor plumbing. It sounds like reaching, but taking time to be thankful for even these basic necessities is part of cultivating that attitude of gratitude.
Virtual school can be challenging, to say the least, for students, teachers, and parents. But can we be thankful for a Wifi connection? For the ability to connect in ways that were unimaginable in previous generations? For access to technology, and perhaps for some of it being funded by your education system? It’s so easy to spiral into a pit of despair during these times when our kids are cooped up and missing socialization. And it’s important to allow ourselves to feel that frustration. But we are so fortunate in so many ways, and that’s important to acknowledge as well.
Practicing Thankfulness With Your Kids
A time-honored tradition of going around and having everyone name something they’re thankful for is always a great practice. You can also try a “gratitude walk” with your kids, going out into nature or even for a quick stroll around the block. Look for all the small things you’re grateful for -- colors, sounds, smells -- and name them out loud.
November is a great month to teach your children about gratitude journaling -- writing down what they’re grateful for. You can also incorporate thankfulness into the bedtime routine, taking turns to name 3 new things you’re grateful for when tucking in each night. Some families keep a “thankfulness jar” with family members writing down their small gratitudes whenever they think of them. Then, different members of the family take turns reading these aloud from the jar once a week or month over dinner.
Remember that by being thankful, you’re not only choosing to find the good in these very difficult circumstances, but you’re also planting seeds of hope for a better future. When we cultivate an optimistic outlook, we’re more likely to carry it with us in our future actions and interactions -- which certainly can help make this world a better, kinder place. You’re setting an example for your little ones, too.
Whatever your current circumstances this Thanksgiving season, we’re sending warm wishes to you and yours.