3 Tips for Cultivating Gratitude this Thanksgiving

“We have so much to be grateful for!”

Although that’s a true statement for most of us, what happens if we’re struggling to find gratitude in the midst of a very difficult year?

It’s vitally important to have grace for the way you feel if you’re currently struggling. We can’t manufacture feelings, but there are actions we can take to keep our focus on Thanksgiving- even when life is hard and the fuzzy feeling of gratitude just isn’t there.

First, be curious.

One of the best ways to combat dark emotions is to start asking yourself questions about what you’re truly feeling. Gratitude is an incredibly positive feeling to experience, but it can easily be hampered by grief and mourning which are very important to fully process as well. If you can identify the things that are pulling your attention away from Thanksgiving, it can allow you to release any bitterness or address any issues that may need to be addressed.

If the negative thoughts and emotions are taking up a majority of your headspace, consider finding someone to talk to whether it be a professional counselor or trusted friend. First, identify what you’re struggling with by asking questions like:

  • Is there any bitterness I am holding onto that I can’t seem to forgive toward myself or another person?

  • If there is nothing that I can do to resolve the situations in the past, how do I take steps to move forward and release myself from the weight of carrying those things with me into the future?

  • Am I in the middle of processing grief and the pain is too great at the moment to focus on anything else?

Often these are questions we have to wrestle through with the help of a counselor, trusted friend, or loved one before we can find a path forward- especially if there are things we’ve held onto for many years. You deserve to experience the full joy that comes with gratitude and the hard work of asking yourself these questions and finding a path forward is worth it!

Second, look for the little things.

Generally, when people gather around a table and share what they are thankful for, they offer broad categories like “friends” or “family.” These tend to be platitudes that don’t really stir up memories of specific moments or gifts that brought love and light to your life. If you’re struggling with feeling grateful, it’s important to take some time to pin-point some tangible times in your life that created that feeling of gratitude inside of your heart. Even if they are very small examples, if you start to focus on them, it can change your perspective.

Is this a habit you have fostered in your life? If not, now is a great time to begin a gratitude journal. Spending just five minutes a day focused on identifying things that you’re grateful for can change your whole perspective.

Third, turn toward contentment.

Richard Swenson, MD in his book Contentment writes, “The best kind of contentment, the truest kind, is a state of feeling unencumbered. It is a state of absence of fear or anxiety about what we own or don’t own. It is about freedom from comparison, regardless of what our neighbor has” (pg. 94).

This time of year, marketers amp up their messages in order to get people to buy! That’s not a surprise to any of us, but paying attention to these advertisements can actually breed discontent. Even though we all know it’s happening, it’s important to remember that businesses are not worried about your current financial situation or how overwhelmed you are with "stuff." They don't care about your future financial situation either, they are singularly focused on their own bottom line.

As Swenson puts it, “Progress cannot have sympathy for these people’s overload because its sole function is to keep the economy growing… If people balk at buying more, this simply becomes an obstacle to overcome through advertising. Experience shows that even when overloaded and indebted, people still are easily manipulated by slick marketing” (71).

Living a content life used to be considered a treasured virtue. Remember that during this season, if you’re struggling to find gratitude, you may have been sidetracked by “slick marketing” and discontent. Take a step back, identify what is truly important, and focus on learning contentment. It will serve you well.

Considering these three tips can help you to find some real and tangible things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

At Merit Advisors LLC, we hope you and yours have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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