I will be on the road next weekend and won’t have time to write my weekly post, so this will be the final post of November. Today I want to write about Thanksgiving. Numerous clients have mentioned the stresses that the Holidays, ushered in by Thanksgiving, create for them. I hope this post will give you some tools to deal with at least some of the issues that may arise.
Perhaps the best defense against an emotionally difficult Thanksgiving is to put yourself in as “thanksgiving” a space as possible. If your basic mindset is one of gratitude, appreciation, and abundance it is going to be much more difficult for you to be rattled by the issues that inevitably arise when families get together, or by feelings of lack or loneliness if you don’t have family to celebrate with.
There are four basic ways of deepening your feelings of Thanksgiving. First is to count your blessings. In 1954’s classic movie “White Christmas” Bing Crosby sang “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep I count my blessings instead of sheep and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” Counting your blessings is inherently soothing. Consciously enumerating the blessings in your life (which may revolve around relationships, health, employment, faith, talents, money, or dozens of other areas) is a practice you should engage in frequently, not just at this time of year.
The second, related method is to examine the fabric of your life and identify elements that are indeed blessings but that can easily be overlooked. The enjoyment provided by nature (the crisp autumn air, the beautiful Fall foliage, a pile of leaves to crunch through) and music (whether Mozart or Moby) are two that I often point to, but there are so many others: the feeling of well-being that can come from taking a deep breath, the aroma of fresh-baked bread or coffee, the warmth of a fire on a cold, rainy afternoon.
The third approach is to compare yourself with others who are less fortunate: “There but for the grace of God go I,” a saying attributed to the Protestant martyr John Bradford. This method is my least favorite of the four because it emphasizes abundance only in a relative, rather than an absolute, way. “I’m better off than him” is not nearly as powerful a statement as “I’m blessed with……(good health, a loving spouse, a secure job, etc.).
Finally, if none of the above feels sufficient, go out and create thanksgiving in the world. You could do this quite literally (by serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless) or by giving of yourself in just about any way: emotionally, physically, or even monetarily (I list monetarily last because, while perhaps the easiest to do, writing a check or handing someone in need a $5 bill won’t provide the same level of inner contentment as will calling a friend / relative to tell them you’ve been thinking of them and engaging in a meaningful conversation, or, in the physical realm, offering to help someone move or paint a room or clean up a yard). Relatedly, if no obvious opportunity arises to create thanksgiving outside of you, you can nonetheless enhance the “thanksgiving” space within by wishing for others something that you know would make them grateful. I recommend this technique (which I call “The Wish List”) to help clients fall asleep, as it is inherently soothing. Bring to mind a friend, relative, or co-worker. Think of a problem they’re facing in their lives, and simply wish them a solution. For example, if your best friend has problems in his marriage you might wish him reconciliation; if your cousin has been diagnosed with breast cancer you might wish her complete healing; if your boss is under a lot of pressure to produce results you might wish him the calm to deal more easily with that pressure.
Try these techniques over the next week and see if they don’t give you a greater sense of capability, joy, and thanksgiving. Happy holiday!