What if there was one thing you could do to improve your health, mood, and relationships? What if that thing was also incredibly easy to do? Enter gratitude, the closest thing we have to a silver bullet for our well-being. Tis the season to count our blessings, but I’m going to level with you: I’m struggling. Maybe it’s the overload of #blessed social media messages, or the onslaught of commercials designed to tug at your heartstrings as advertisers make the most of the season, but lately I feel like we’ve overdosed on gratitude.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that giving thanks is what the holiday is supposed to be all about, and I’m glad people are thinking about it. I have this nagging sense, though, that rather than practicing true gratitude, we are using it superficially. It’s like gratitude has become its own Instagram filter, making everything we share with #thankful look warm and dreamy. A lot of it is, to be sure. But not everything we’re grateful for is shiny and pretty and perfectly packaged for social media. As I think about some of the biggest sources of my own gratitude, many are events that were ugly and painful to experience, but utterly formative. In this season of heavily curated thanksgiving, I don’t think those things get enough play. So, I thought I’d share some of mine here.
1. The end of my first marriage
My relationship with my ex was short in duration and long on suffering. Not a day goes by that I don’t want to go back in time, wrap my arms around my younger self and sit her down with cup of tea for a good talk. “Sweetheart,” I’d say to her, “I know you love this man, but you cannot save him from himself. Moreover, that is not your job. His happiness is not your responsibility, and every minute you spend believing that it is means one less minute spent on your own hopes and dreams.”
The limbo of do-I-stay-or-do-I-go is torturous and isolating. Through it, though, I learned what I needed and deserved in a partner—all of which I have today. From his kindness and humor to his ability to fix the disposal or not question why I need yet another pair of black leggings, I am grateful for my husband every day. I truly believe that the marriage we have is largely due to the the hard lessons I learned earlier in life.
2. Moving to the South
We were living in New York City when my husband got the news that his company was relocating to Georgia. I’d been in New York for twelve years and loved everything about it, from the beauty of the buildings at night to the overcrowded subway. I assumed I would grow old in New York. I pictured myself teaching my kids to ride bikes in Central Park and how to jaywalk while dodging tourists. I imagined myself somehow developing a Jewish grandmother accent and becoming one of those little old ladies who cuts in front of you in line at the bagel shop and then pretends they’re too deaf to hear you complain. I had zero interest in leaving everything I loved for the South, where I imagined that everyone lived on a plantation, had a double name like Emmy Lou or Billy Rae, and was obsessed with grits. Three years in, I’ve never been happier. I don’t love everything about the South—far from it. There is an undercurrent of racism that keeps me constantly off-balance. I miss the diversity of New York. Also, I was right about the grits, and don’t even get me started on people’s names. At the end of the day, though, there is an ease to life that has won me over. The pace is less frenetic, making it feel like there are more hours in the day for the things that are truly important, like playing with my son or watching one more episode of The Crown.
3. That time I got bangs
Every time I get bored and consider doing something trendy with my hair, I remember the Bangs Episode. Trendy is not my look. Lesson learned, enough said.
4. Having a terrible boss
I’ve only ever had one truly terrible boss, but it was so traumatic that I think about her more than any of the good ones I’ve had. This is a woman who made Miranda Priestly look like a Disney princess. It was one of my first jobs, and my responsibilities included things like hanging the art in her office—and then rehanging it when she wanted me to move it one inch to the right, going to a dirty Chinatown shop to buy her special (possibly illegal) “herbs” to help with her hot flashes, and taking notes in meetings while she screamed at people. (I quickly learned to edit her meltdowns out of the official record.) By the time she quit I’d learned one thing: I was never going to be like her. I’ve been a boss many times since then and thinking about what she would do—and then doing the opposite—is one of my guiding principles.
Thanksgiving can be a great time to reflect on your blessings. Even better, it’s a good time to kick off the practice of reflecting on them every day. I have a group text with my closest friends, where every day we share three things we’re grateful for. I’ve learned a lot by reading back through my lists. Sometimes the things on it are sparkly and Instagram-worthy, like an amazing girls’ weekend or a glass of wine by the fire with my husband. More often though, they are things related struggle, like getting through a rough patch with a friend or not losing my shit when my kid refuses to nap for the umpteenth day in a row. These days I’m trying to consider all of those things, the ugly and the beautiful, as I count my blessings. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.