Thankfulness By Leah Zhang, LPC

The vibrant fall colors remind me that the Thanksgiving Holiday season is fast approaching, filled with travel plans, family gatherings, friendsgiving or a pre-Christmas shopping spree. For some of us, it can be very low key and chillax. For others, it can be hectic trying to finish tasks at school or work in order to pack up and fly home. For some, it might be stressful anticipating the upcoming gatherings given how complicated our family dynamics are. I hear many stories where people feel overwhelmed anticipating the worst case scenario, conjured up from their past Thanksgiving experiences. ‘I love seeing my family for Thanksgiving. But being stuck in the airport waiting to see them isn’t my favorite moment.” “My mom and I have been arguing about something over the past few months. I am afraid that we will be fighting over dinner and completely ruin everyone’s Thanksgiving.”

If we look only at how stressful Thanksgiving can be, we might miss the complete picture. Simplistically, there are two sides of a coin. Thanksgiving gatherings can be chaotic and joyous; tiring yet satisfying. When we go around the table and take turns to give thanks, it is surprising how our negative emotions can ease up. Certainly, it’s easy to be thankful when life is going well when you feel like you are standing on top of the mountain. It a bit trickier when we consciously choose happiness and gratefulness in the valley. Creating a habit of giving thanks can be what we need in stressful situations when we actively shift our perspective to a “glass half full” mentality, bringing what we have rather than what has been missing in our lives into our awareness. It fosters other positive emotions, such as joy and contentment.Just like creating a healthy habit of working out regularly takes time, cultivating a thankful spirit in order to feel and express gratitude will not be our automatic response right away.  

Here is an easy exercise to start off and it takes about five to ten minutes to accomplish. Every morning for a week, prompt yourself to count three things you are thankful for in life. This exercise can be done mentally on the way to work, or written in your journal while riding the train. Or if you are not a morning person like me; give thanks at the end of the day. For example, “I had a great time today when …” “I felt happy/cared for/excited/appreciated today when …” At the end of a week assess your emotions to see if the exercise is helpful to you. If so, do it two more weeks, and then a month. In time, this gratitude exercise may rise above an item on your to-do list and become an attitude in life and an an effective coping method when stressful situations come our way. That attitude can help us to interpret and reinterpret any event in a positive light. When we are busy counting our blessings in life, it may be easier to overlook the negatives about a delay at the airport on the way to see our family.

To read more about the benefits of gratitude, please visit The 7 Benefits of Gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!