The Practice of Thankfulness


For many of us, Thanksgiving kicks off a season of celebration which doesn’t really seem to stop until sometime in January. I probably don’t have to tell you that large gatherings of people, festive parties, and times when everyone is supposed to be part of a happy family can be especially hard if you’re single and wishing you weren’t, maybe even hoping that you would have been on your way to creating your own little family by now.

In some parts of the world, this season is cold and dark as well, which doesn’t do a lot for my mental state at the best of times. Often, by the time I find my seat at the Thanksgiving table, I don’t feel very festive. I often don’t feel like being thankful.

Maybe you’ve played that game so often employed around the table. Everyone goes around and mentions something they are thankful for. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve really struggled with this idea. On years when I’m feeling uncharitable, it can seem like a way to brag about blessings, and on years when I’m feeling pathetic, it can seem like an excruciating exercise to figure out what I’m going to say.

But there is evidence to suggest that gratitude is good for us, and that it encourages more gratitude. What if this simple practice extended into the difficult days of winter and helped you to see a bit more clearly?

Like any practice, gratitude can be awkward at first, but it gets easier with practice. This morning, for example, I’m grateful for the sun streaming in my window. My home in the Pacific Northwest doesn’t get a lot of sun at this time of year and I’m choosing to accept these rays as a gift. Last night, I cleaned my kitchen from top to bottom until it sparkled, after a long week of putting it off. This morning, when I walked in to make my tea, I was grateful to last night’s self for this lovely gift.

These aren’t the sorts of things I’d say around the table, of course. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth noting. In fact, once you start noticing them, it will likely become habit. My own tendency is to focus on what is wrong with my life, on what I wish would change, rather than on the gifts I’ve been given, simple or otherwise.

Last week, one of my best friends moved back to town. She has a three-month-old baby and now I’ll have a chance to be more present in his life and in hers. There’s a new season of the Great British Baking Show on Netflix. Yesterday a friend called out of the blue, just to talk. These are all reasons to be thankful.

Why not give it a try? Once a day, or every couple days, spend a little time with a notebook. Make a list. Or carry it with you and write things down during your day as they come to you. Collect your blessings in a place you can see them and return to them. Use them as ammunition against the moments when it feels like everything is going wrong in your life.

When it comes time for Thanksgiving dinner, if you happen to be at one of those gatherings where you’ll need to say you’re thankful for something, you’ll have a huge array of options. But don’t stop there. Let the practice carry you through December, January, beyond. Let gratefulness become habit. There is no downside.

It’s likely that I’ll still miss blessings in my life—I’m not perfect at this. But I want to be on the watch for them. I don’t want to always expect the worst. It’s so easy to find when you’re looking for it—in the world, in your own life—I want to expect wonder and beauty. I want to expect joy. Maybe if I’m looking I’ll see those things more often. That would be something to be thankful for.


Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook.

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