DEAR READERS: Happy Thanksgiving! This is one of my favorite times of year because it is a time for family and loved ones.
When I was growing up, the notion of "thanksgiving" lived in our house year-round. My mother, Doris Cole, who is now 89 years old, would tell us to count our blessings. She explained that one way to stay positive and humble is to consciously acknowledge the good things in your life each day. She implored us to remember that there is always something for which to be grateful, even if you have had a particularly tough day. You are grateful to be alive. You are grateful to have a roof over your head. You are grateful for your family. For your job. For getting good grades. For surviving an accident. For living through a disease. For getting over a bad relationship. For your friends and neighbors. Mama’s wisdom said that in absolutely every circumstance, there is a reason for gratitude.
Practicing gratitude is an interesting concept. It requires active engagement. It calls for a mindset that is hopeful and optimistic. It needs you to examine your life carefully and notice the good aspects of it -- no matter what is going on. Because this is something my mother instilled in my sisters and me from a young age, it is part of our daily lives now.
When it comes to Thanksgiving proper and all that this holiday entails, the practice of gratitude takes on a new dimension. I have talked to hundreds of people about how they experience this day, which kicks off the holiday season. For many, Thanksgiving triggers feelings of anxiety, dread or even loneliness. This is true whether they are traveling many miles to be with family or staying home or visiting with friends. The season can trigger lots of memories and stir up old feelings. Often, people who visit the family homestead fall into childhood roles that unconsciously spark conflict. Others long for family members who have died. The list is long for what can cause discomfort.
This is when practicing gratitude is even more important. Your outlook can make all the difference. For starters, you are not 10 years old and beholden to your elder sibling’s ploys. Be grateful for that. If the family matriarch has passed on, rather than mourning, you can celebrate her life. If you get into a debate with loved ones, catch yourself and be grateful that you had the presence of mind to refresh your course. Be in control of your thoughts, words and deeds during this time, and choose to find joy wherever you are. Make an effort to stay in the moment and not get lost in behavior patterns or hurts from the past. With an attitude of gratitude, you can initiate new ways of engaging each other.
And if you are by yourself and feeling lonely, instead of wallowing, you can get out and help others, call loved ones and tell them how much you miss them, take a walk or serve meals at a homeless shelter. The ideas are endless. The point is, you are the one who can decide what Thanksgiving means for you. If you decide to practice gratitude during this day and season, you will find that your experiences will become sweeter and more memorable in the best possible way.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)