For those of us fortunate enough to sit down tomorrow at a turkey-and-fixings laden table with friends and family, I have one sincere wish. I hope that amidst the talk of football and politics and “when can we have pumpkin pie,” everyone takes a pause to think about gratitude. After all, if you are with loved ones, have a full plate and a television tuned to a sporting event, are wearing warm clothes, and do not have to work on Black Friday eve, then you have many blessings.
There will be a moment during many Thanksgiving gatherings when everyone takes a turn naming something for which they give thanks. Here is my challenge to you. When it is your turn, think more deeply than the usual platitudes such as “I am grateful for my family” or “I am so thankful that the Eagles are beating the Cowboys” (or vice versa), or “I am blessed to have all this good food.” Those are all, of course, very nice sentiments, but we can do better. When it is your turn to speak, offer gratitude that has real teeth. Say something unexpected, honest, and behaviorally specific. Such expressions of gratitude have oomph. They don’t sound like blah blah blah; they capture folks’ attention and they carry the full power of true gratitude.
This week, as I asked my clients about their Thanksgiving plans, I also asked them to name one thing for which they are grateful. (There is growing evidence that an intentional focus on gratitude is good for emotional well-being and may even be helpful in treating mental illnesses such as depression.) I gave them the same challenge that I gave you. There were many moving expressions of gratitude; here are some examples from clients across the developmental span from young child to older adult.
- I am happy you have Hot Wheels and that you let me play with them. But only if I do good work first and ask permission. – Enrique, age 6, coping with his parents’ divorce and near-abandonment by his mother who struggles with drug addiction
- I am grateful that scientists figured out how to make a drug that helps me succeed in school. I am grateful that my parents finally have health insurance so that I can take the medicine. I am thankful that my teachers did not give up on me when I slacked off on my homework. And I am thankful for chocolate. – Heather, age 15, diagnosed with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder as a high school freshman
- My gratitude at the moment is about completing my degree and having a job lined up for the new year. I know I didn’t do this alone. I could not have done this without amazing parents and supportive professors. – Tania, age 21, graduating a semester early from a very challenging university while she is in treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- I am certainly not thankful that I have cancer, but I am so thankful for the friends and family members who are walking this journey with me. And I am thankful that a friend suggested that I see you. – Ryann, age 43, single mother of two, fighting metastatic breast cancer
- Even though I have been having a hard time figuring out what to do with myself since I was forced into retirement, I am so thankful that I don’t have to worry about resources. I think it is time for me to give back; maybe that’s what my retirement will be about. – Eleanor, age 65, recently laid off attorney who copes with recurrent episodes of depression
I don’t often write about my family in this blog, but today, out of an overwhelming sense of gratitude, I am going to deviate from my usual practice. Here are some examples, from my own loved ones, of unexpected, honest, and behaviorally specific expressions of thanks:
To my daughter. I so appreciate your hugs. You don’t give them out often, but when you do, I know that you really mean it. I appreciate how much you are your own person and don’t worry about what others think of you. I love how you discover aspiring artists on YouTube long before they become the Next Big Thing. I love how when your dad and I drag you out on a hike or a bike ride, you complain on the way and then are so much fun to be with. I love how you stop along creeks, take a deep breath, and delight in that fresh, cool smell of moving water.
To my son. I love how you are willing to hug me right in front of your high school friends and once this year unabashedly called me “Mommy” in public. I appreciate how motivated and independent and hard working you are in all that you do. I feel so lucky that you and I have a shared interest in basketball and that I get to have so much fun watching you play. I am grateful that you bring boundless laughter to family meals with your silly imitations. I even appreciate the way you make me laugh at my own quirks, like my tendency to over-explain my jokes.
To my husband. I am filled with gratitude for your countless acts of kindness from offering to go to the grocery store with me on the night before a predicted snow storm on the day before Thanksgiving to asking me on weekends how much caffeine I want in the afternoon cup of coffee you always brew for me. I am so grateful for your dedication to the important work you do with veterans and their families. Even though I tease you about these things, I love how you cater to our daughter at bedtime and play Clash of Clans with our son; you are an amazing dad. I am so appreciative that, despite how much you hate the cold, you will grill out all winter and go geocaching with me on my birthdays.
So, dear readers, I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving – one filled with good food, fine wine, the company of beloved relatives and friends, victories for your home town teams, and a sense of gratitude that fills you up even more than the gobbler and pies.
Oh, and I am so very grateful for my readers.