There’s So Much Pressure at Thanksgiving to Be Thankful

  • By Matthew Chambers Springible Contributor
  • Reading Time About 4 minutes
  • PostedNovember 21, 2018
  • Category

There’s so much pressure at Thanksgiving to be thankful.

I know, I know. That sounds incredibly trite and probably even a bit cynical.

But, please hear me out.

Think of the moment in school or around the table when the question, “What are you thankful for this year?” is lobbed out, like a grenade, filled with social pressure to come up with an answer so packed with poetic prose it brings the class to their feet, or those gathered at your table to tears.

And, the reality is, you can only play the, “Can you come back around to me, I need to think about it” card once, maybe, if you’re lucky.

Of course, none of us want to appear ungrateful.

So, we blurt something out.

Maybe it’s something to rally the base, like “I’m grateful for my family…” or “I’m thankful we can all be together…” or “I’m so thankful for life and air and good wine….”

Maybe it’s something to distract the crowd with a chuckle, like “I’m thankful we are eating early so we don’t miss [insert sports team a here] playing [insert sports team b here] this afternoon…and for my family, of course!”

There’s so much pressure at Thanksgiving to be thankful.

Yet, here some of us (many of us?) are. Struggling a bit, not because we’re ungrateful, but because sometimes, thankfulness feels like a bit of a luxury of thought. The bits of life we’re thankful for at any given moment may not be so easy to articulate out loud. They’re things we tuck away in a mental filing cabinet marked “Remember These Things on Tough Days.”

Candidly, I’m not sure I always know how to be grateful in a culturally acceptable way. Now, I’m pretty good with words, so I can absolutely come up with something that works, but it may not be my “real list” of things because that’s just for me. And, it’s just for me because thankfulness isn’t always a team sport, it’s often a very subjective experience.

Each of us notice and experience and engage with moments differently. One person may overlook a moment completely, while another may find it to be the most impactful part of their year. Those are the moments that don’t get posted to Facebook, or Instagram stories with #grateful or #blessed or #livingmybestlife. We just…keep them for ourselves.

The darkest of our days can give way to the greatest grateful relief…but, sometimes, they don’t, and sometimes we don’t know how to say that.

For families like mine, who are dealing with a diagnosis or grief or struggle, that’s a lingering feeling we aren’t always sure 1) how to talk about, or 2) whether we even should. It makes us feel like Debbie Downer, when really it’s just our reality.

There’s so much pressure at Thanksgiving to be thankful…unless we change it around a little bit.

What if this year, we didn’t put each other on the spot?

If your family prays before or after the meal, maybe offer a moment of silent prayer so those at your table may offer their own gratitude from their hearts.

If your family doesn’t pray but still gives thanks, just take a moment of quiet for everyone to reflect on their personal thankfulness, and finish with just the acknowledgement that “We are thankful…”

For so many around our nation, there will be an empty seat this year that was filled the year before. There may be a seat filled this year, but accompanied by pain or some other difficulty.

Whatever way your table may be different this year than in years’ past, I hope you won’t feel the great social pressure to be thankful, but rather can take comfort in that private list of gratefulness you keep tucked away while being present and hopeful in the midst of the delicious mayhem.

May your Thanksgiving this year be heavy on the love, light on the political discussions, and filled with stories and delight and food and most of all…gratefulness for all the things you may never share with another soul, but give you hope to keep going, even if it’s a difficult journey ahead.

“No longer forward or behind
I look in hope or fear,
But grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here.”
// John Greenleaf Whittier

Happy Thanksgiving.