Thanksgiving Grief: finding gratitude when you’re anything but grateful

Confession: I have been in full-on denial about the holidays approaching. You may or may not have noticed, but we have not uttered a peep here on the blog about the looming season of good will and cheer. If I had mentioned it, it would have been only to express my deep anger at retail stores for putting Christmas stuff out before Halloween. BEFORE HALLOWEEN?!?! Are you kidding me?!?

But Halloween has come and gone. Day of the Dead was over a week ago. My job started a holiday food drive last week. My mom called me yesterday to start talking logistics about Thanksgiving. And today every store I entered had holiday displays out in full force. The time has come. The holidays are coming. There, I said it. It’s official. This is my public acknowledgement that the holidays are going to be here sooner than later, whether I like it or not.

Last month we posted 64 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Grief and on that list we said “holidays will be hard forever”. I was struck by the number of people who commented, saying they could related to that item specifically. On social media someone said, “I deluded myself into thinking that after the first year the holidays would go back to being normal and happy. 7 years later I now realize the holidays will always have some pain and, just like everything else, nothing goes back to normal.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The holidays are a reminder of the people who should be at the holiday table, but are not.  Their absence remains, even as the years pass.  Of course it gets easier, but it is always a bit tough. We see images everywhere of what the holidays are supposed to look like – perfect families full of perfect holiday cheer. Yet our realities may look quite different after a death (heck, even before!) – someone important is missing, families may have been divided, traditions may have been lost, there may be financial strain, or pain and conflict where goodwill should live. Womp womp.

If you couldn’t tell, I am not in the best frame of mind right now.  Thanksgiving grief is hanging over my head. In addition to the holidays looming, I have been stressed at work, I have been questioning my life direction on a pretty basic level, and feeling some generalized existential angst.  Fear not, there is good news. There are things you can do (and I can do) to plan for and cope with the impending holidays to ease the pain. Lucky for you, in the weeks to come we are committed to sharing our tried and true strategies for coping with the holidays. Because as much as I have been denying that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, there are ways to shake the holiday dread.  It has worked for me before and I have faith it can work again. Even better, I have been in this existential funk before and have come out the other side all the better for it.  

16 days of gratitude 2I know the dread for the holidays can color the lens through which we see the world, keeping us fixated on the loss and pain above all else. I know I am looking through a gray, dingy lens these days and I have a strong feeling I am not alone. So today the plan is simple: gratitude. It only seems appropriate, with Thanksgiving around the corner, we work on changing our frame of mind by looking for the good. It may sound cheesy or hokey or whatever, but here is my promise to get my holiday season off to a better start: I will share one thing I am grateful for every day. From tomorrow until Thanksgiving I will probably spend some time overwhelmed by stress and generalized holiday gloom, but I commit to taking at least a few minutes every day to reflect on the things I am thankful for.

This isn’t huge, it isn’t crazy. It is downright attainable. And it works. We have an incredible ability to fixate on the negative (you can even read about our negative bias, from an evolutionary perspective). Breaking up all that negativity with positive thoughts about the people, places, and things we love can be a refreshing and much-needed shift in thinking. Looking for gratitude slows us down. Instead of rushing past the little things, it encourages us to take the time to appreciate and savor them. It helps us re-frame things for ourselves – looking at the positive, instead of the negative.

I know this can feel impossible when the negative feels like it is crushing you and when it is a battle to get out of bed. Luckily the interwebs are full of resources to inspire us to be grateful. We have shared Louie Schwartzberg before, but it seems impossible to talk about cultivating gratitude without sharing this video. This video always succeeds in making me feel totally self-involved and ungrateful.  As someone who feels shame is a crucial motivational tool it seemed important that I re-watch and share it.

And leave it to the folks at soulpancake to prove to us why expressing our gratitude can actually increase our happiness.

Ready to start being grateful and shake just a little bit of this looming holiday funk?? I am going to find one thing I am grateful for each day and will share it on social media. I have coerced Eleanor to do the same. And I would encourage you to join the party! We will share a gratitude a day from tomorrow until Thanksgiving – 16 days of gratitude, here we come. You know the usual locations – share your gratitudes with us on facebook, twitter, google+, and Instagram — and use the hashtag #whatsyourgratitude.

Still not feeling a gratitude challenge?  Download this gratitude journal app and get fired up about gratitude.  Come one, what do you have to lose?

If you’re worried about the upcoming holidays, head over to our store and check out our resource ‘A Practical Guide for Grieving During the Holidays’.

A practical guide for grieving during the holidays









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March 28, 2017

6 responses on "Thanksgiving Grief: finding gratitude when you're anything but grateful"

  1. It isn’t working for me right now and I actually did it. I came up with 5 people I was grateful for and even let every one of them know it. I wrote it on Facebook and the names turned blue. I thought that would help because someone dropped me just because I don’t like Hillary Clinton as much as SHE does but it hasn’t helped. I think online behavior is downright STRANGE. If you told someone at work you don’t especially care for Hillary Clinton they wouldn’t then throw you in the trash (or the equivalent of it) and never speak to you again just because you had a tiny difference of opinion. I don’t understand Internet communication at all and I have a degree where public communication is part of my skills. I got it in 1998 before online social sites became a thing but the basic rules seem like they should apply IMO. This throwing someone away forever over one difference of opinion is odd behavior. I’m sorry but that’s what I think. I’m having a really rough time and trying desperately not to, and doing the exercise of finding gratitude isn’t working. Even though I honestly feel glad those people are in my life.

  2. Litsa,

    For those of us who aren’t on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Google+ (yes, believe it or not, such anti-social-media dinosaurs do exist), could you periodically post your gratitude-of-the-day entries to your blog?

    For my part, I was grateful today, among other things, for that awesome sunset breaking through on what seemed like a cold, cloudy, day. I took a break from work and stared out the window at it, as it evolved and then faded. Of course, no sooner did I marvel at the sunset than I thought about how I wished I could share it with that special someone who died years ago. As you wrote, the grief gets easier over time, but it never goes away.

  3. This put me in a better frame of mind! I still sometimes wonder why the funk hits me this time of year, but I just need to remind myself of everything to be thankful for. Thanks!

  4. I really hear you!! The special meanings that should be attached to
    Thanksgiving and Christmas have been totally destroyed by our
    society’s commercialism. So sad and is something more to grieve.
    I am shedding tears as I write for the so “right there” pain of the loss of my
    son and husband.

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