Existential Psychology

Gratitude On Thanksgiving

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It’s hard to feel any gratitude as long as we’re stuck in a framework of comparison. The most frequent form this framework takes is where we compare our situations unfavorably to the situations of others. We come to feel embittered and resentful that for some unfair reason they have material, psychological, or emotional resources we lack. We get stuck in a place of scarcity. It’s hard to summon up much gratitude when the focus is always on what we don’t have.

But a more insidious, less conscious form our unfavorable comparison takes is when we continue to hold tightly to the pleasant images we may have had since childhood of what our lives and relationships should look like. It’s as if we feel a relentless pull to keep swimming against the current of reality, to keep trying to force the people we care about into roles we imagined for them so that we can finally feel happy and fulfilled. We don’t accept or appreciate our life situations for what they are, we don’t appreciate the people we care about for who they are, because reality contrasts sharply with our cherished fantasies.

We’re not doing ourselves or the people we love any favors by trying to force circumstances to be something they’re not. We’re not doing ourselves or the people we love any favors by growing disappointed and embittered when, despite our best efforts to realign the situation, it remains the same. What we have to come to realize is that all the conditions for our happiness and fulfillment are available right now. For most of us the ideas of scarcity or abundance are largely subjective and biased in the first place. We can always find people who seem to have it worse than us and we can always find people who seem to have it better than us. But as long as we’re stuck in the comparison game we’re necessarily denied real contact with the here and now.

This Thanksgiving, instead of wishing your family members were different, or wishing your own life was different, just embrace the moment. Let it be okay that right now this is how things are. No need for judgment or comparison. From that place of radical acceptance space is easily opened up for gratitude to bubble over as you note the wonders of life and the wonders of the people you care about, wonders that you may have been ignoring or minimizing due to them not fitting into that perfect image of the way things are supposed to be, an image you’ve been carrying around for a long time. You may have come to believe that this image is sustaining you but actually it’s draining you. If comparison is the thief of joy then radical acceptance is the giver of joy. Let your Thanksgiving be about acceptance and it will be free of conflict and full of happiness.