How to Stay Grateful While the World is Falling Apart This Thanksgiving Season

You look out the window to see red and orange leaves falling down onto the cool pavement. The light is dim and warm as the scents of apple cider, cinnamon and pumpkin fill the air. You turn to face the dining room where you see all of your friends and family together — on Thanksgiving 2019. 

The 2020 Thanksgiving season is full of juxtaposition. You feel grateful for your family and friends, but you can’t see them safely. You want to acknowledge the blessings of the year, but the nation is full of unrest. Feeling thankful becomes difficult when this has been hands-down the most difficult year yet.

How do you manage to be thankful, grateful and blessed when the world is falling apart? You can’t deny the downfalls of the year, but you can address them and reframe your thought process. 

Find gratitude in the small things

“I think it is so important to find gratitude in the little things because they are blessings from God no matter how big or small they are.” 

— Selene Bragagnini, Chaffey College, 2021

person writing in a journal while they read the bible Photo by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash

Let’s put it out there: we’re a mess right now, and the clean-up process is a long and tedious one. Because there’s such a huge mess, it’s easy to allow that to overpower the small, beautiful things. But it’s the small things that amount to a large outcome. 

“Gratitude in the small things is definitely a mindset that we have to practice daily,” Amy Barajas, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), explains. “I always say that everything has two sides: a positive and a negative. Choose to look at the positive.”

One way to look at the small, positive moments is by keeping a gratitude journal. Grab an empty journal and a pen, and each morning or evening, write down what you are grateful for. You can write down you are grateful for having food on the table, a Zoom call with your best friend or being able to snuggle with your pup. It’s simple, but it gives you a tangible representation of the small positives.

Be thankful for what you still have alongside the grief

“If I had to choose one word for this season it would be ‘unexpected.’ I would have never predicted that my final semester of college would be at home, and I’ve found that the small moments of freedom have a big impact on my mental health.”

— Kelsey Arvidson, Azusa Pacific University, 2020

Love letter with flowers Pezibear on Pixabay

This year has been full of loss. We’ve lost graduations, birthdays, communication, time, and even loved ones. There is reason to grieve what’s been lost, and you should give into it

“Grieving acknowledges loss and this is healthy and necessary for a person to process,” says Barajas. “To do this in a healthy way is to give space for your feelings. Building a good sense of coping skills, a support system, faith, and self-awareness allows you to grieve in a healthy way.” 

Once you have allowed yourself to grieve, open yourself to gratitude, but don't shut out the grief if it comes back.

“Gratefulness begins to set in after we have processed grief,” says Barajas. “But it’s important to understand that just because we have processed grief doesn’t mean we won’t return to it. Grief is an ebb and flow. Some days you feel it more than others and each time it hits you, give it space to process. I believe grief and gratitude can exist at the same time.” 

One way to be thankful alongside the grief is by putting your gratitude into action. If you’re thankful to have a support system rallying around you, write them cards and tell them. If you’re grateful to have a friend who checks up on you, call them up. This brings gratitude to the forefront, and can help if the grief sets back in.     

Don’t let your current overwhelming circumstances define your life

“With the pandemic, we are constantly spending time on our laptops and phones to do everything. We go to school, work, and socialize using something with a screen, and when we are not consumed by life, we are consumed by the news. The current events are the topic of conversation constantly, but in a way, that is moving us towards progress."

— Aris Pangan, University of California, Los Angeles 2021

Girl with closed eyes and praying hands Photo by Ben White from Unsplash

You keep trying to get a hold of everything going on, but you just can’t. You’re not incapable, but the situations our world is facing are daunting and overwhelming.

But you have to remember the current circumstances don’t define your life. That doesn’t mean throw your hands up in the air and let go of work that needs to be done. It means understanding you are more than your current situation. 

“The only way you can zoom out and look at the big picture is through purpose,” says Barajas. “God has given all of us purpose, and by focusing on that, you see what your role in this world should be.”

Barajas also explains that minimizing our social media consumption and implemtning coping skills and gratitude can aid in this purpose-driven journey. Praying, meditating, journaling or quiet time can also help.

The 2020 Thanksgiving season is a bit more challenging, because you have to look past the surface to be grateful and blessed, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be thankful for. 

We can still find peace and happiness, if we “choose to be content and grateful despite grief, despite disappointment, despite all the bad,” says Barajas. “It's in those experiences you feel with your mind, body and soul that are truly freeing.”