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How loss can make us grateful

Thanksgiving was different this year.

My husband and I ate alone for the first time in thirty-plus years. Of course, being the Martha Stewart look-alike that I am, I treated it like any other Thanksgiving. I meticulously cleaned the house, decorated with the requisite orange and brown figurines, cleaned and polished the silver, put out the crystal, set a beautiful table, arranged the flowers I had pre-ordered, and cooked a five-course meal.


Actually, I treated T-day as a day of rest and remembrance. I contemplated gratitude. My husband and I relaxed, ate cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie on our china, and delayed cooking the turkey until Saturday.

I focused on gratitude. I read an interview with psychologist Nathan Green talking about the pandemic and suggesting that sometimes loss rather than abundance can lead to gratitude. Contrary to what you might think, abundance (in the sense of having a lot) doesn’t guarantee that we notice or feel grateful. Loss, even the kind that stops us in our tracks with a gut-punch, can.

Green’s research makes sense. We take good health for granted when we’re abundantly healthy. But a chronic or temporary illness can make good health feel priceless. We become grateful for the health we have left as well as the health we hope will return.

Even when our capacities diminish, our appreciation for what remains can expand.

As much as Thanksgiving has been a favorite holiday that I love celebrating with family, I took our celebrations for granted. How I missed family this year! We couldn’t even include our grandson, a senior at Western Washington University. Given the spike in COVID cases, it seemed too risky.

I missed everyone. At the same time, I spent more time sending thoughts of love to all the members of my extended family. When my siblings and our families were able to Zoom, I was so grateful for the call, even though I’d been feeling Zoomed out.

What have we lost this year?

  • Just a few years back, I took civility and civic-mindedness for granted. Now, any sightings of those in public are precious.
  • I used to take our local businesses for granted. Now, I make it a point to support them and I pray for their survival.
  • I lost my mother two years ago. My gratitude for her (which, fortunately, I expressed to her) continues to grow.
  • Our Northwest rains make a short sun break spellbinding.


Keep your gratitude muscle in training.

Saving major gratitude-giving for Thanksgiving is like running a marathon without any pre-event training.

Gratitude is a muscle we can strengthen every day.

It’s a lose-or-use muscle, so best to keep it active through good times and bad, even in a year that’s been downright awful for so many.

Maybe in difficult times, we need even more gratitude.

The muscles in our bodies are designed to balance each other. For example, strong hamstrings balance strong quadriceps. This suggests that if the year has been rough (sorry if I’m pushing the metaphor), we can balance it by developing even more gratitude.

The major losses we have experienced or read about (Covid, fires, environmental, political, etc.) can inspire us to offer more blessings for the wonders in our lives.

We don’t need a big reason to feel grateful–noticing small items can fill our spirits as well.

Although I love the idea of keeping a gratitude journal, I haven’t managed to keep one consistently. Instead, I’m trying a new practice: doing a two-minute review of the day as I get ready to sleep, remembering everything for which I’m grateful.

My practice encourages me to notice tiny opportunities for gratitude throughout the day. A few minutes of blue sky. A redtail hawk atop a Doug Fir tree. My husband’s eye after his eye surgery. Pumpkin pie. Coconut Redi-whip. Aquamarine blue watercolor paint. A conversation with a friend. People I read about who are doing good for others.

Never judge an opportunity to be grateful as too small.

If I haven’t told you recently, I am so grateful to you for reading this newsletter-blog!

Starting the New Year gratefully

Let’s start 2021 with gratitude, and not just because 2020 is finally behind us! I’ll be grateful that we get to begin again.

We survived. We persevered. We get to invent the future.

Let’s keep working that gratitude muscle.

One Response

  1. I feel grateful for my good health, friends and family and My ability to adapt to changes that are out of my control.
    Thanksgiving was different but equally as rewarding and delicious.
    I thrive on change because it makes me stretch and grow.
    Have a wonderful refreshing holiday time however you choose to spend it.

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