Note: This originally was published in the Get the Fuck Off newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe, you can do so here.
When I was a kid, we did that thing where we went around the table at Thanksgiving and told everyone what we were thankful for. It’s a nice idea, save for the fact that I don’t think any of us really understood the true meaning of “gratitude,” which is what the practice was supposed to highlight.
I always thought it was a “put-on” practice, especially since the adults usually opted out of it, and the kids were always were grateful for some hundred dollar item from Toys R Us. Really didn’t seem to fit the origins of what should be a day to be grateful for the cornucopia
When I got to be an adult, I spent my Thanksgiving like everyone else- hammered and hating my relatives.
It was always a chaotic experience, so one year I decided to abandon it altogether to spend the night in an after-hours bar, and then go directly to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. That turned out to be the year with the biggest familial blowup to go down in our history, with one family member yelling that they wished to “plunge a knife” into another’s chest.
A gem of an occasion I sorely missed. (Ha!)
Adding insult to injury- Thanksgiving is usually laden with an insistence on gluttony, and the cultural emphasis on overeating drives those of us with current or previously disordered relationships with food into a spiral of self-hate.
So- why am I excited for it this year?
Well, for the first time in my adult life, I have had a year focused on gratitude.
Don’t mistake my meaning- a lot that happened this year has been downright brutal for many folks, but as I stare at the food lines on Avenue C wrapping down half a block and around the corner, I am suddenly aware of my abundance when it comes to food.
My body, for wherever there is extra fluff, is displaying that I have been taken care of… for months.
My parents are alive and healthy. My grandmother is happily trucking along at 89. For a year that clamored with so much loss and grief, I have been fortunate to have those I love be well.
Many of my friends had the virus. Two of them said they thought they may die in their sleep during the evenings, but all survived, and are here to answer my texts. One, the one who had it the worst, just brought a new baby into the world.
Now, I supposed I could have said a laundry list of other things about why this year was terrible. Perhaps I could have drowned myself in pity about politics, lack, ennui, or anything else, but during this year, I chose not to hold my focus there.
Now, that’s not to say that some really terrible shit didn’t happen- but choosing to look right at things with a sober set of eyes, and a heart filled with gratitude for the things I did have made what could have been a very dulcet tone of a year into a melody.
Why am I writing this?
Well- because I want to share that when things are bad- we tend to think about how bad they are, and place our sole focus on how bad they can be. I did this for many years with things like choices I made, the debt I had, etc. And, when I did that, that HUGE GREY MATTER thing in my skull did exactly what it has been programmed to do — noticed more of the bad.
So, when you focus on the bad, you see more of the bad. It isn’t bullshit. It’s the hard science of your brain.
For a lot of years, I chose to see much of the bad, and thus, I needed more “medicine” to deal with the bad. Things like alcohol — in excess. Things like cigarettes. Things that I thought made it easier to cope with any and all of the nonsense of life. “Family.” “Holidays.”
What I know this year, more than any other year, is that when you focus on the good, and the things you are grateful for, things just seem more manageable. Everything seems just a little better, and more of a reason to celebrate.
And, for what it’s worth, whatever you think you need to have to cope with the stress of life is completely made up in that big squishy blob of grey matter as well. Having less of that stuff makes life inherently less stressful.
This year, gratitude has been an ongoing practice for me, which is probably why I’m finally seeing a holiday rooted in it as a blessing.
I challenge you all if you’re struggling, drowning in things that seem chaotic and unmanagable, to focus on the good, and see the abundance, whatever it may be, in your lives.
Because when you focus on abundance, even to the smallest degree, more abundance will follow that.
It’s not a load of shit, I promise you.
I hope you all have a safe, wonderful Thanksgiving.
PS: Turkey is terrible unless it’s pumped full of sodium on a deli sandwich