WRITTEN BY Aileen Kelly
Gratitude in Real Time
It’s 4:30 PM on Thanksgiving Day. I’m sitting at the Thanksgiving table. I’m two drinks in on whatever adult beverage I’ve committed to for the duration. The side dish I brought was a minor hit. No one raved, but it is all gone, and I am willing to accept that as praise enough. Everything is going smoothly. In another hour, the table will be cleared, the dishes washed, and the casserole dishes set next to the purse of the woman who brought them. Roughly half an hour after that, it will be time to go home and fall into grateful sleep.
And then, as sober and earnest as ever, cousin Diana pipes up with, “Let’s go around the table and say what we are most grateful for.”
Sweat breaks out across my lower back. I make eye contact with Diana’s younger brother, and without either of us saying a word, we reiterate that yes, Diana is a good person, and yes, she should be relegated to the kids’ table for the foreseeable future.
Grandma begins with her gratitude that all her kids are healthy and happy. Everyone nods and smiles. Diana thanks the universe for the blessings bestowed upon us. Everyone nods, but there are only a few smiles. Nice thought, wrong audience. Uncle Sal is grateful for some political reason no one agrees with but no one wants to talk about. Silence. His wife thanks the universe for gin and receives a round of applause. The gratitude flows around the table. There are 14 adults present, and aside from Uncle Sal and his wife, everyone is tense and vaguely out of sorts.
I think it would have been better if Diana had asked us what we were thankful for. Being thankful is much more casual and easier to name.
I thank people for all sorts of small things for which I am genuinely thankful—bringing me the food I ordered in a restaurant—holding a door open for me when I am carrying a baby, a dog, and my purse—letting me go before them in line when I only have two items, and they have two carts full.
Gratitude seems so much heavier. Formal and yet private.
Maybe I’m still burned out from the five things to be grateful for a day journal some well-meaning person gave me. That journal stressed me so badly that I pulled out the pages I wrote on, burned them, then gave the rest of the journal to charity, where it could find someone who might actually benefit from it.
Research shows that people who focus on things they are grateful for feel happier and sometimes even exercise more. Research also showed that a group of middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals did not feel any better than the group of middle-aged divorced women who didn’t keep gratitude journals.
I am a middle-aged divorced woman. I was not part of the study, but as we have seen, performing gratitude doesn’t go over well with me.
Does this mean I am urging you to ignore your gratitude practice?
Nope. If it’s working for you, keep it up!
But if it isn’t working for you, that’s okay, too.
Maybe you need something a little simpler, lighter, and smaller.
Let me introduce you to my nighttime routine.
Every night before I go to bed, I say, out loud, “Good night, house, see you in the morning!”
My younger son does the same. Then we brush our teeth. As we brush our teeth, we go over how much we do not like to brush our teeth but that we do it anyway because it keeps our teeth in our heads, and that is a good thing.
Then we talk about how our dog Rosie eats any bad dreams before they can really get scary. We thank Rosie for her service and give her a few treats. Then we kiss each other good night, say I love you, and get in our own beds to read.
This is our version of a gratitude journal.
- We let our sweet little apartment know that we appreciate all it did for us that day, and we make sure it knows we are looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow.
- We thank the toothbrushes and toothpaste that make our mouths uncomfortable while keeping our teeth healthy and in place.
- We thank Rosie for being part of our fiction that she keeps us safe from the bad dreams that used to scare my younger son but magically stopped when Rosie came to live with us.
- And then we kiss each other goodnight and say we love each other because we are grateful for one more day together.
Notice whether you have an unwritten gratitude journal. I have a strong feeling you have one with many, many entries. If it feels right, think about writing them down and keeping track of them, seeing how they grow and change as your lives grow and change.
Diana will be at the kid’s table this year. I cannot wait to hear what those little goblins tell her they are grateful for. I might join her just to hear what crimes they inadvertently confess.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!