Dr. David Walker

Dr. David Walker

If you noticed that “Thanksgiving” was trending on news sites and social media, it probably wasn’t because people were listing the things they were thankful for in 2020. It was probably some instructions on how to have a COVID-19 friendly holiday gathering, or someone complaining about their state guidelines ruining the holiday all together. Whether you do Thanksgiving on Zoom with your family, sit outside 6 feet apart or tailgate-celebrate in a parking lot somewhere, I want to encourage you not to socially distance yourself from the idea of actually being thankful this year.

Harvard Health Publishing has highlighted several studies that show significant data that support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being. In the report the researchers note, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity and build strong relationships.” Well how about that?

As I have discussed before, positivity is hard work. The natural tendency of the human mind can often be to only see the negative. Even optimistic people struggle sometimes. Someone who never exercises and eats whatever they want will grow unhealthy. Someone who spends money without budgeting will struggle financially. A marriage without intentional enrichment will potentially fail. An absence of correcting and teaching children when they’re young will lead to more serious problems when they are older. Drive a vehicle without ever performing regular maintenance, and eventually it will leave you stranded. Allowing yourself to only see the negative will lead to significant emotional and mental struggles.

This Thanksgiving it is more important than ever that our families be intentional about gratitude, no matter how you decide to celebrate. So what are some ideas that can help us be more thankful and what are some specific benefits?

Build in a time for intentional sharing about something good that happened this year. “Dr. Walker, that’s super corny and my family will roll their eyes when I bring it up.” Maybe, but if you’re like me they roll their eyes anyway, especially at my “Dad jokes.” But here’s a secret they won’t admit: They love it. Here’s another secret: This isn’t the big self-righteous leadership move it feels like. What it really is is you serving your family by guiding them in gratitude. So even if you’re the only one that shares, share anyway.

Create an opportunity to share something specific that you are thankful for about everyone at your gathering. Be careful not to leave anyone out. Make notecards with everyone’s name on them and pass them out beforehand. Have everyone write something nice about the person whose name is on the card, then you read the cards at the table. If anyone wants to add positive comments as you move around the table, that’s even better. This is just my idea; feel free to get creative and do it your way.

Use this time for reconciliation. We all love the scene in “Home Alone” when the creepy old guy next door turns out to be a good dude and he reconnects with his grown kids. I know this is an emotionally charged suggestion, but it is amazing how much broken relationships negatively affect your emotional and mental health. Remember you cannot control other people’s responses, but you can control your actions. Make the call, write the note, take the drive; if there is someone you are at odds with, there has never been a better time to tell them you love them, you’re sorry, they matter and you want a fresh start.

Ask family members to share something that they found to be a pleasant surprise this year. I love the notion of a pleasant surprise. That conversation you thought would be awkward but turned out to be a blessing. That meeting you dreaded that turned out to include good news. The quarantine that caused you to miss work but forced you to spend time with your kids and reconnect. Give your family advanced notice because this may take a little thought, but everyone should have an answer.

Brainstorm together about someone in your neighborhood who you could bless with a pie and a kind note. This is the only time I will ever suggest that you leave something on the doorstep, ring the bell and run from your neighbor’s house. Of course, this is to make the act of kindness COVID-friendly. This could really be fun. Maybe it’s an older person on your street. Maybe it’s a family going through a hard time. Maybe it’s just a random person who has a nice lawn and you want to compliment them. Pick someone, buy a pie, write a kind note, and ding-dong ditch. You can always wave from the street!

Use social media. Social media can contain so much negativity. The toxic takes, the complaints, the highlight reels that don’t match real life but still make you feel insecure. Take this Thanksgiving season and share some honest reflections on what you are thankful for. It will bless you to share and bless others to see.

Happy Thanksgiving. May the holiday be blessed, and may our gratitude refresh our minds and hearts.

Dr. David Walker is a local school counselor and graduate student in the master’s in social work program at Idaho State University. He lives in Pocatello with his wife and three children.