Celebrating Gratitude, Not Thanksgiving

The season of cheese potatoes and tryptophan-filled meat is upon us, and for the first time, my nearly three year old can actually participate in a Thanksgiving. This means he can have a share in the long standing family traditions of overeating, arguing, and saying “thank you” without conviction.

I don’t mean to sound crabby, but why do we go about our lives unsatisfied, chasing happiness through an envious scroll down our News Feed, just to say a half-hearted “thanks” during a football game one day a year? Call me a gravy Grinch- but I don’t buy into that misleading complacency, and I don’t want to raise a kid to buy into it, either.

The use of the word “thanks” has become very instinctual in my life. It slips out whenever it is supposed to: when someone holds a door for me, when someone compliments my son’s (seemingly) good behavior, when my husband wishes me luck on a run. I pressure my son to show appreciation for every little thing, and apologize profusely if he refuses. I don’t think too much about it; “thank you” has become the automated email response of my vocabulary- it’s pre-typed and goes out without any effort, or thought, on my part. It turns out, this does not qualify as being thankful- quite the opposite, actually. 

Why do most of us continue to take this quick, meaningless route to thankfulness?  

Can’t wait to incorporate this into his wedding invitation someday

Because being truly grateful takes effort. It takes practice. It’s not a feeling- it’s a choice we make. In the hours that make up motherhood, the vast majority of my time is spent trying to fix something that has gone wrong. Someone is throwing a fit, the kitchen is a scene of destruction, I haven’t made it out of the house in a week and am afraid I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a human conversation. When I’m so busy focusing my energy on what is or could be going wrong, and how much money/time/elbow grease it’s going to take to make it better, I am just too tired to strive for gratitude. 

So instead of wasting energy and stress on a party where we pretend to honor our ancestors with a meal that didn’t really happen (or if it did, not to the gluttonous extent we take it to today), I’m going to take that energy and focus it on being actively thankful year-round. I am ready to put in the work it takes to look at the amazing gifts in my life and truly value them for what they are worth. These years go by too quickly to spend them unhappily. I will take the time each day to remind myself how wonderful it is to be puked on, to have a mess in the kitchen, and to be able to stay in yoga pants all day- the frustrations I have are proof of my privileges. The conditions I approach as obstacles become the foundations of my joy if I look at them under the lens of gratitude.

My healthy child, comfortable living room, and supportive family are so easy to take for granted. This year, beyond Thanksgiving, I’m going to start a family tradition of affirming that what we have is more than enough. Daily, weekly, and monthly, despite my own flaws and failures, I want to have active conversations with my son about how what we have in our lives is everything we need. If I want my son to live joyfully, I have to prioritize teaching him that real gratitude is an outlook on life, not a absently spoken phrase or a leg of turkey.

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