Updated: Nov 19, 2021
For Your Mental Health, Count Your Little Blessings This Thanksgiving
By Steve Wong
It’s that time of the year when we fold our hands, bow our heads, and count our blessings.
But after nearly two years of mask wearing, maniacal handwashing, and social distancing — and more than 5 million deaths worldwide — because of COVID 19, being grateful is not as easy as it used to be. Not only has COVID 19 caused death and misery, it has sparked many social issues, added to the divisiveness of people in both general and very specific ways, made the economy bounce like an over-inflated balloon on a bed of nails, and triggered what is being called The Great Resignation. Yes, being thankful -- being grateful -- can be a challenge when depression, suicide, and drug use are all on the rise.
Psychologists have told us for years that having a sense of gratitude is critical to our mental health. Otherwise, we can be overwhelmed by all of the bad stuff that has happened to us as a society and as individuals. It is easy to just slump into unhappiness and despair, and as my mother used to say “wallow in self-pity.”
I, for one, will admit guilt when it comes to wallowing. My darkest days of despair came after a job loss. FYI, job loss ranks high on the depression scale, along with death, divorce, and major illness. My ego was sorely battered, as was my checking account and any plans that I had for the future. Being past middle age certainly did not help either. For weeks, I didn’t sleep or eat, and my mind was in constant turmoil, asking, “Why did this happen to me?” and “What will I do?” At some point, hate -- of myself and everything around me -- was my only friend.
Or, so I thought.
I don’t usually read self-help books or articles, but in my desperation to live without hating, I began to google for information about coping with the down-side of life. After reading countless articles, it became obvious that gratitude is considered to be a cornerstone of happiness. At first, my cynical self refused to accept the advice of the ages, as well as that of the modern thinkers. What did I have to be grateful for? I had every right to be unhappy. Life had dealt me an unfair and devastating blow. It seemed that wallowing in self-pity was all that I had left.
Thankfully, little by little, I began to look for evidence in my life that I should be grateful for something. After trying to change my mindset by looking for the big things I should be grateful -- and failing -- I lowered my sights. I had lost a good job, but I was getting unemployment. It was better than nothing, which is what a lot of other people were getting. I didn’t have a mortgage: I patted myself on the back for having insisted that we have a 15-year mortgage, instead of a 30-year. Having a mortgage and not having a job would really suck. My children were grown and on their own, and I was thankful that I didn’t have little children depending on me. And even though some of my so-called friends had shunned me (mostly those I had worked with), others stood by me, offering hugs, encouragement, advice, and ideas that could actually work.
Yes, looking for that proverbial “silver lining” was helping, but it wasn’t until the day I stood alone in my front yard and faced the morning sunshine that I finally began to believe I was going to make it. I was thankful that day for the sunshine. I was thankful for my dog licking my hand. I was thankful I could walk back into my house, make myself a sandwich, and get back to the job of earning a living by writing words that people actually wanted to buy and read. I was thankful for the little things, which paved the way for me to be grateful for the bigger things that I had.
This Thanksgiving I am grateful for face masks, soap dispensers, and people who step aside in a crowded room. I am grateful that I got vaccinated. I am grateful that no one close to me has died from COVID 19. I am grateful for magazine editors who send me assignments, businesses that need blogs, and nonprofits that need press releases. But most of all, I will be grateful for sunshine -- wherever it might be that day. I will seek out that little ray of hope because I know it is there -- somewhere -- for the taking.