In the face of tragedy, loss and trauma, it can be very hard to see the silver lining or be grateful for very much of anything. It may seem that we have lost so much, and that we will keep feeling the pain of loss forever. As mentioned before, sometimes we can experience extra sadness around the holidays because we are reminded of the people we no longer have on this planet, people who were close to us. The holidays are often celebrated with family and it reminds us of loneliness and heartbreak. Around this time of year I am reminded of my father’s passing, and how young he was to lose his life and vitality. At the same time, I am grateful for the relatives who are still alive, who persist in their struggles and with whom I can still experience closeness and joy.
Alternatively, for people who grew up in abusive and/or homes with addicted family members, the holidays can bring up a different kind of pain. We may be reminded of violence in our homes, seeing people hurt or neglected, or forced into situations where we felt out of control. How do we find peace when the holidays remind us of dysfunction and disconnection, you might ask.
As trite as it may sound, we can be grateful for the fact that we have survived our childhoods. We can be grateful for the wisdom that we have gained from surviving those situations. We can feel sympathy for the younger versions of ourselves who had to endure that pain, while still feeling relief that we are safer now. We have control over our lives. If someone mistreats us, we can walk away from the situation. If we can’t, we can figure out a way to do so in the future. We have more resources, physically and psychologically, to escape dysfunctional relationships and situations. We now know that we don’t deserve to be mistreated or lonely. We can make different choices that lead to better outcomes for ourselves. All these ways we empower ourselves are gifts that may not seem obvious on the surface, but we need to bear them in mind when contemplating trauma and loss. If we don’t remember that life is dynamic and flowing, and that we are not sad or scared or angry forever, we risk remaining stuck and suffering longer than we need to.
I try to make it a point to find at least five things for which I am grateful each day, throughout the year, so that Thanksgiving Day is every day. Does it work to pull me out of a bad mood 100% of the time? I wish I could say yes, but realistically it’s more like 80-90%. Nonetheless, if I don’t do it I feel despondent and cynical, and I can’t afford to do that. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “we only have moments to live.” This means that we only have the present moment to live in, and we have a choice as to whether to make that moment enjoyable, pleasant, and wholesome, or negative and depressing. Feeling gratitude and keeping that in the forefront of our minds is one way that I have found to be in a more pleasant moment.