It’s Thanksgiving again, and we’re hosting a miscellany of family and friends this weekend. We’ll probably go around and ask everyone what they’re thankful for, including you. I’m sure I’ll hear the usual suspects: “I’m thankful for my family!” or “I’m thankful for the food!” or “I’m thankful for my health!”
That’s all a bit too easy.
No, I’m not knocking gratitude at all. On the contrary, last Thanksgiving I encouraged you to make gratitude a year round habit. But it’s relatively easy to focus on the positive things in our lives that shape us. The things that bring us joy, comfort and safety.
It’s much harder to look into those other experiences, the ones we like to forget because we instinctively try suppress our own pain. But those experiences shape us as well, often in the negative space left in their wake.
I’m not necessarily talking about the whole “Everything happens for a reason” bromide. I don’t have a strong position on whether or not there is such a thing as fate. But I do think while we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control our response to it. To glean what we can from those experiences, to ensure that we make some meaning from them.
So what would it be like to re-frame our focus to give thanks to those shadow experiences?
Instead of just “I’m thankful for my friends,” what would it be like to observe, “I’m thankful for the times in my life I’ve been alone and isolated, so I can appreciate having the friends that I do have in my life?”
I’m thankful for when I’ve been sick, so I can appreciate the health of me and my loved ones.
I’m thankful for having the opportunity to grieve the loss of someone I love, so I appreciate the fragility, uniqueness and joy of the relationships I do have?
It’s a difficult practice at first, to look at the pain and to actually be thankful for it. But like anything it’s a practice, one that might give us the possibility of reacting to our future pain differently.
So yes, I’m thankful for President Donald Trump. He’s given me the opportunity to realize that there are causes and beliefs that are worth advocating for. For reminding me that public policy and debate is an activity sport, not one to sit on the sidelines for. He’s also given me a window to see some of the disillusioned and marginalized people that propelled his rise and to see that my previous reality may have been a bubble, of sorts. It’s a painful sort of realization, but one that I can appreciate now in a way that I couldn’t then.
One that I’m even grateful for.