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How Gratitude Makes Your Thanksgiving Happier

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Emotional Health related image Photo: Getty Images

I am no different from anyone else. When my life was in the crapper and Thanksgiving came, I was convinced that I had nothing to be grateful for. Over the years, however, I have come to understand that gratitude is one of the best ways out of holiday depression and isolation.

When you are feeling down where do you begin? It all starts with your attitude.

"Attitude, to me, is more important than facts…more important than circumstances. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what people think…say, or do…we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

Those are the thoughts of American writer and clergyman Charles R. Swindoll, in 1934. The ideas are nothing new, but they are easily forgotten when we are in the throes of unhappiness. In other words, to survive the holidays we need an “attitude of gratitude.”

Family gatherings can send many people deeper into their sadness. They have unrealistic expectations, often shaped by materialistic popular culture. When we face our own personal challenges and the distress that often accompanies family gatherings, it’s time to develop a strategy to recognize the good stuff in our lives. Here are a few tips on how to jumpstart your gratitude.

• Read the newspaper or watch the news on television, and you’ll be reminded quickly how much better life is for you than it is for people who have experienced violence, natural disasters and profound loss at some point in their lives.

• Visit a nursing home or a hospice for a glimpse into the lives of people who are ill. Some may be completely alone.

• Simply look around you at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Add a Comment8 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

It is good to see everyone's spiritual and intellectual generosity here. We can all gain from the help of others in making our thoughts and intentions clearer.

November 29, 2010 - 6:34pm
HERWriter Guide

sharonnnyc - Thanks for your response, and as Alison said, being so gracious. I lost two friends to cancer over the holiday, another looked for creative ways to deal with her hair loss due to the chemo used during a bone marrow transplant. All of these souls went though some horrendous times, and always appreciated support and help from others. I know your intentions were good, and thank you for the follow up. Life is too short not to make every single day a learning experience.
Take care,

November 29, 2010 - 5:44pm

They say that our critics can be our greatest teachers. So, thank you all for taking the time to help.

In the past, when feedback was given to me with acknowledgement for what was good and then, what could be changed--many times it transformed my life.

Life is a process and I am learning all the time. I am grateful to all of you.

Hugs and happy holiday wishes to all!

November 28, 2010 - 6:33am
(reply to sharonnnyc)

That was a wonderful response to our "critical" comments, and I am sorry if I was too blunt. I read your article, in hopes of finding some good inspiration for my family (including a 4 year old), to teach him about what Thanksgiving means.

It is difficult in this time to find true meaning, and obviously learning about "gratitude" can't come from a TV, but it is challenging to feel gratitude when we are bombarded with polar opposite messages:
1) Give-Me: Go to any department store the day-after Halloween, and find nothing but Christmas decorations and gifts and presents. No mention of other holidays, and Thanksgiving is ignored. It's the "give me" instead of the "giving" spirit!
2) It's All Bad: Turn on the TV, and the "advertising" for us to watch the evening news is primarily headlines such as: who died, what child was abducted, who was raped or murdered, who was killed by a terrible disaster. It's truly awful messages to demand our attention, rather than more of the average/day-to-day news (but, I understand that would not grab our attention).

What a world we live in! We just have to look harder with intent to find the true meaning of "giving" and "gratitude", especially for the younger members of our families.

I hope everyone had a wonderful thanksgiving, and thanks to sharonnnyc for being gracious.

November 28, 2010 - 9:26am
EmpowHER Guest

The comments by AB and PE are way off the mark, if not deliberately obtuse. Which of us was not taught as a child to contemplate the difficult circumstances of others and to count our own blessings? "Eat your dinner. Children are starving in Africa."

The author is not suggesting one should merely gawk at the unfortunate with no thought of helping them. It's entirely likely that if someone does take a clear-eyed look at others' misery and misfortune, s/he will be motivated to lend a hand.

(quote removed by Moderators)

-- Aaron

November 24, 2010 - 10:00am
(reply to Anonymous)

I agree with your suggested addition to the article to "lend a hand" as a wonderful way to feel gratitude, rather than simply taking a "glimpse", "view", or "watch". Thanks!

November 25, 2010 - 1:40pm
HERWriter Guide

sharonnnyc - I am, to be honest, appalled by your comments. How dare you suggest that people go visit a hospice or nursing home to "get a glimpse into the lives of people who are ill." As a cancer patient the last thing that I want or need is for people to make themselves feel better by thinking they have life better than me. I also don't need someone telling me, or any other patient, that all we have to do is to decide to have a "good attitude" and go get one.

This topic is under discussion right now in a cancer workshop I'm in through Stanford University and instead of being told to put on a fake happy face the patients are getting constructive support in ways to cope with depression, stress and other issues that come with the holidays. It never occurred to us that we are like circus animals and could be used to make other people feel good.

If you'd like to write about your life, and what has worked for you, that's fine, but please do not suggest actions that demean others.

November 23, 2010 - 5:30pm

I was excited to read this article by the title alone, and was extremely disappointed by the message and content!

I am surprised that the suggestion for us to be more grateful for thanksgiving...is to look at how sad and alone someone in a nursing home may be, or to watch the news for a family in crisis or other devastating circumstance...so we feel better about ourselves.

As the author stated without mincing words, "how much better life is for you" compared to others who have been victimized by violence (an actual example given by the author), left alone and depressed in a nursing home, or devastated by a disaster.

Are you kidding?!

I would LOVE to hear from other EmpowHER women, who are able to truly feel gratitude in a healthy and loving way; not at the expense of others' misfortune.

How do YOU find gratitude for thanksgiving in positive ways?

November 23, 2010 - 3:32pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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