Okay, I’m going to jump on the bandwagon a bit and put out what I’m thankful for. But it’s not quite what everyone else is going to say. One author that I keep up with is Kristen Lamb. I don’t always agree with everything she says (and I’m guessing she’d probably tell me I shouldn’t) but she’s got some good gems, so I like to keep up with her.
She put a blog post up yesterday called “Life’s Unseen Blessings—Are We Really Thankful?” in which she brings a pretty cool and slightly different perspective on the concept of being thankful. I especially like the middle where she takes a different view of being thankful, looking at the blessings amid our most common complaints:
“I am thankful for all the laundry I have to do, because it means I have clothes to wear.
I am thankful for the dishes that need washing, because it means I didn’t go hungry.
I am thankful for the big electric bill, because it means my home has lights and heat.”
There’s a lot of good wisdom in here. Because many of us are very good at looking at the negative. For some? It’s just a matter of adjusting our outlook on things.
For other people, it’s not so simple.
Constant negative thinking can be seen in many cognitive distortions. A huge number of these distortions are a result of mental disorders like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, three conditions with which I am intimately familiar, either because I have them (depression and anxiety) or a family member does (my husband and daughter, at least, though my late mother and mother-in-law suffered from both, as well). These mental illnesses make pulling out of negative thinking and shifting it extremely difficult, if not downright impossible, at least if you’re not medicated properly (because one of the biggest components mental illness is a chemical imbalance).
And even if you are, if you haven’t had the benefit of extensive therapy, those distortions do rule your life. So it’s not always so simple to step back from the negative thinking and take the bad stuff as good, like Kristen does. Even so as difficult as it is, I think that, for most of us, it’s a good exercise. Take what’s bad, take a complaint and see what you can find in it that’s good.
However, I also want to point out that there are people out there that, even if they have a house or clothes, may not feel like that have anything to be thankful for. In some cases, it’s their last set of clothes. Or they’re in danger of losing their house at any moment. And to feel grateful is almost like asking it to be taken away.
More distorted thinking, yes, but something that is very real to too many people.
I’ve been there and in the not-too-distant past, at that.
One of the things I always remind myself of today is a Thanksgiving I had not too terribly long ago. Roughly ten years, which, is longer than it feels but still, too close for my comfort. It was one of the sparsest Thanksgivings I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something).
My husband and I spent it eating turkey sandwiches in our car in a grocery store parking lot. We were in the process of closing up our apartment to go live with his parents because we were both out of work and couldn’t find anything new. And we were recovering from a miscarriage.
I remember thinking that I was grateful to even have a car to sit in. Grateful I could buy the turkey lunchmeat (I’m not entirely sure it was real turkey, actually, but that’s not the point). Grateful I wasn’t alone.
And I remind myself of that day every year.
I am not working a day job right now. My husband isn’t working. There are a few reasons for that which I can’t go into here, but what it boils down to is that we can’t get jobs.
I am exceedingly lucky. I have an ability that allows me to make money—albeit not a lot—but I can make money outside of a regular job. I work a lot. I do it for little pay, but it helps to keep a roof over our head.
And yet, I am afraid that if I make too much noise at being thankful for it… that it’ll go away. Just like the home or the clothes or anything else.
Poor people, regardless of how religious they are, tend to be very superstitious. As yet another example of distorted thinking, it’s fear, plain and simple. “If I am too happy about x, it’s going to be taken away.”
So yes, be happy, be thankful, be grateful. And remember that some folks have real reasons to not necessarily feel the same way.