Focus on the positives when giving thanks this season

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

Sadly, much of my family lives far away (all on the East Coast), so we don’t spend many Thanksgiving holidays together. We do celebrate it with our oldest daughter and her family who lived in California and now in Seattle. I like to go around the table and ask each person to share what they feel thankful for during the last year. Our family expects this ritual and comes prepared to reveal what they appreciate about their lives. I love to hear what each person is grateful for and to think about the things for which I’m thankful.

This has been a difficult time for many families. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost loved ones to COVID-19. The global pandemic has been a roller coaster ride of hope, disappointment, frustration, fear and loss. It’s not over yet, and we’re all tired of it.

It’s easy in everyday life to focus on the negatives, especially what’s in short supply. We want more time with loved ones, less work at work, more leisure time, more money — the list goes on. It’s also tempting to compare our lives with others. This kind of reflection can leave us feeling bad.

Like a good deal in modern life, holidays can also be “too much.” Too much food, too much football, too much dessert, too much preparation, too much money or too much to drink. The next day is also “too much.” Too much shopping, too much money spent and too much running around.

Young children learn what this holiday is about in school, even if we forget. It’s a remembrance of our country’s celebration of life in this new world. The founders struggled for survival in a harsh landscape and found time to give thanks for all of their blessings. After all, they were alive!

Thanksgiving is also a ritual — it’s on the same day every year, we eat the same foods, often the same family attends and the after-meal activities are frequently repeated year after year. With all the change we experience every day, it’s reassuring and comforting to have something that is familiar and predictable. It brings us back to what is really important. It brings us back to family.

But it can be a hard time for individuals and families that are stressed. Illness, death, job loss, financial problems or family issues don’t take a vacation during the holidays. Feeling alone on Thanksgiving can intensify feelings of loneliness.

Regardless of your circumstances, it’s a good time to reflect on the positives in your life, especially those aspects of family life that you appreciate. Take some time this Thanksgiving, in between helpings of turkey and mashed potatoes, to consider what you appreciate and value in your life. The real dessert of Thanksgiving is not pumpkin pie — it’s the act of giving thanks.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/healthwellness-library.html.

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