Hello, friends! I hope you’re doing well and finding some joy this week. In real-time, I’m sitting with a happy belly, full of green bean casserole and sweet potatoes. The holidays are such a difficult time for so many of us that when I ask people what they’re doing for a holiday I ask if that’s enjoyable or stressful. I’m always glad to hear my clients saying that they’re creating their own traditions that work for them, whether that’s ordering take out or going out to the movies or ignoring the holiday altogether. I saw a post on FaceBook the other day featuring an item that said: “I hope spending the holidays with your family doesn’t undo all the progress you’ve made with your therapist”. And so if your family triggers you, I wish this for you.  Let’s look at some ways practicing gratitude can help you through this season.

No matter your family situation, Thanksgiving can serve as a reminder to be grateful. I’ve had so many different Thanksgivings; I’ve been to dinners served on generations-old china with fine wine and dinners where everyone fixes their own paper plate and sits in front of the TV to watch the hunting channel. However, I think my favorite Thanksgiving memory was lying in bed the night before Thanksgiving and trying to think of all the things I’m grateful for. The thinking and listing went on for probably an hour or an hour and a half. Y’all, I was trying to think of everything.

But sometimes we don’t feel very thankful. And the pathways in our brain that create that feeling of gratefulness seem inaccessible. And to be honest, gratefulness is a practice, not an event and not just an emotion that’s sometimes there and sometimes not. We have to build a muscle and do so regularly because that’ll help make those pathways in the brain more available. So today, I’m here to give you some ideas about how to make thankfulness a habit rather than something you feel you “should” do. Pro-tip: Don’t “should” on yourself.

Gratitude is most natural when it occurs spontaneously throughout our day. Let’s look at some things you probably do every day that are really opportunities to practice flexing your gratefulness muscle:

  • When you’re eating- Can you be grateful for the person who grew, harvested, packaged, and stocked your food? The person who prepared it- even if that’s yourself? For your skills in cooking that help to make you self-sufficient? The ability to taste and enjoy food? A body that works hard to turn what you feed it into fuel?
  • When you’re in the shower or bath- can you be grateful for access to clean water? A dwelling in which you can bathe? The people who work the water and sewage system where you live to bring you clean water? The people who made your soap? The ability to feel and control your water temperature? Any pleasant smells or feelings that come from bathing?
  • Getting into or out of bed- can you be grateful for the rest you just had or are getting ready to have? Can you be grateful for your bedding?
  • Maybe you’re grateful because some of your bedding was gifted to you or even made for you by someone who loves you. Can you be grateful for yourself- for something you did today? Maybe someone was kind to you today and you can be grateful for that. Practice sending love to that person. Notice what that gratefulness feels like.
  • Starting or turning off your car- Can you be grateful for having access to transportation and how much easier (or more possible) that makes your day? Can you be grateful for the joy that driving can provide? Remember being a new driver and enjoying that feeling of being able to go anywhere?

Let’s get something super clear before I leave you: Asking you to practice gratitude is not the same as saying “you should be grateful”. It’s not rooted in shame. I’m not accusing you of being ungrateful and taking things for granted. I’m simply encouraging you to treat gratitude like you do love- it’s not just a feeling, it’s something you choose to practice. You can’t quite expect it to just come to you and rely on that for happiness but you also shouldn’t shame yourself into doing it. It’s a fine line but it is an important nuance: there is a difference between softly encouraging yourself to try to summon up a feeling in yourself and forcing yourself because of the fear that if you don’t, you’re not enough.

If you need support this season, connect with Perspectives Therapy Services.

That’s all for today, friends. I hope this has been helpful and brings Thanksgiving into your daily life rather than just being a day with turkey and mashed potatoes. Be well!

Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.