This week, many of us will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Traditions vary from family-to-family and by region, but in many if not most cases, we’ll be asked to share what we are thankful for, and for families facing the challenges of ALS, sometimes being thankful is a heavy task.
While the choice on how to handle any holiday is entirely up to them, here are some thoughts on how to think about Thanksgiving during challenging times.
First off, it’s worth remembering that what we think of as Thanksgiving was born out of very challenging circumstances. The “first” Thanksgivings in the 1600s were in many ways celebrations of survival through challenging times and the hope for the strength to continue to face adversity. The founding of an official day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed in the midst of the Civil War, a time when many families would find it difficult to find reasons to be entirely thankful.
For many, religion offers a path to thankfulness in difficult times. As mundane as it might sound, “count your blessings” is a reminder for many that while we should not deny our feelings or circumstances, an attitude of thanksgiving means to look beyond those circumstances and remember the many ways we have been blessed.
Others might prefer to approach thankfulness from a more secular perspective. In fact, there is belief in the field of psychology that thankfulness and gratitude are not only helpful, the may be necessary for us. As stated by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley:
“Consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall. There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.”
None of this means forgetting the challenges we face. It is not as trite as saying “focus on the positives.” It is a reminder that there is a distinction between feeling thankful and being thankful. We feel the way we do for many reason, but we can decide to be thankful for time with family, for the opportunity to share stories and memories, for the opportunity to laugh or cry, for whatever warms our hearts.
And for some, merely the act of expressing gratitude, even if they don’t necessarily feel it in their heart, can be helpful. As Dr. Uzma Yunus wrote in a blog post entitled “Faking Gratitude: Being Thankful During Tough Times” on Huffington Post:
“It seemed that the more I acknowledged the kindness of others, the better I felt inside. I became more mindful of the kindness of others and started to write them thank you notes and expressed my thankfulness. As I articulated on paper why I was feeling thankful, an internal peace occupied me from within.”
So, however you are celebrating—or choosing to not celebrate—Thanksgiving this year, we hope you will find solace in whatever way you choose on this day and many days forward.