How to Appreciate When It’s Hard to Feel Grateful

This Thanksgiving, it’s hard to feel grateful.

As I write this, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising in the US. This means that it is likely that you have been worried for someone who has gotten sick or may have even been sick yourself.

Even if that might not be true, your life has changed in ways that you have had to adapt and shift, more than once this past year.

Now, it is likely you’re having a smaller or different kind of Thanksgiving gathering.

Hard to Feel Grateful

All of this is stressful. I get it. It’s hard to give thanks. It’s hard to feel grateful.

Two years ago, I wrote an article about how I had to re-learn how to be thankful. My daughter had endured 9-months of a grueling regimen of chemotherapy for a rare bone cancer. I was mourning the “harried days of ignorance I couldn’t recognize as bliss,” but thanks to friends, I was starting to appreciate the humdrum, small and strange things like watching hair grow.

How to appreciate when it’s hard to feel grateful

Now, I’m again re-learning how to give thanks–even when I don’t feel like it.

I am embracing the power of a simple word: AND.

  • I’m worried about my aging parents in Seoul who are challenged by and frustrated with their smartphones. AND I am grateful that my Dad’s former never-ending work habits had prompted him to install a fax machine through which I now can communicate with them.
  • I’m appalled by the violent and malicious history of the Thanksgiving Holiday (which I am only now learning). AND I can look forward to the best part of our Thanksgiving feast–my husband’s Thanksgiving hash breakfast on Friday morning.
  • My older daughter misses hanging out with her friends at and around her school. AND She has been home enough to teach me to appreciate K-pop and K-dramas (something I had looked down on during my own teenage years.)
  • My younger daughter has yet to step inside the new high school she worked hard to get into. She has yet to meet her classmates and teachers. AND On rare occasions, I can hear an interesting tidbit emanating from her Zoom classroom.
  • I miss my hugging the local clients who would meet me in my office at the end of a session. AND I am grateful to still be a silent witness to their astounding resilience amidst lonely hardship via phone.

We humans have the incredible capacity to hold two or more opposing emotions at once. We can feel good and bad at the same time. By acknowledging the “bad,” we can sometimes appreciate the “good” on a deeper level.

There is beauty and grace in complexity and confusion.

Perhaps most importantly, when we express gratitude, we are able to step outside of ourselves, away from our sorrow and anger, even if momentarily. By considering others, we can feel more expansive and connected.

One last story

On my daughter’s last stay in the hospital for chemotherapy, we tearfully said our goodbyes to the many nurses, aides, and doctors, who took care of us. If it were not for the dreadful disease (that while no longer present still haunts us), we would not have met so many compassionate, smart and funny people. We were relieved and happy to be done AND we knew we would miss the intimacy we shared with these angels who walk on earth.

One of my daughter’s favorite night nurses, checked on her infusion just before she was about to go to sleep on her last night of treatment. She spoke gently, “In the middle of the night, you might feel a light kiss on your forehead. That will be me wishing you never come back here again.”

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. If you are finding it hard to feel grateful, know that you are not alone. I hope this notion of AND helps you, too.