When Thanksgiving Day comes to close this year, at midnight on Nov. 26, there will be 35 days left in 2020 — and if you’re like many people, you probably can’t wait for this year to end. Indeed, 2020 has been “extra” and then some, and whenever you thought you might be able to pause and catch your breath, 2020 laughed and said, but wait ... there’s more!
There has been good and bad of course, like there is every year, but things that may have seemed bizarre in a "normal" year — the Tiger King, the arrival of insects called murder hornets — have seemed par for the course this year. And there was also a pandemic — an event so disruptive and all-consuming it can be difficult to remember what our lives were like ‘before.’
Last November, I wrote a column about how learning to practice gratitude can benefit both mental and physical health. One of the sources I referenced was an article in Psychology Today titled “Science Proves That Gratitude is Key to Well-Being.”
Although that article includes medical terminology, it bears repeating: gratitude stimulates two key areas of our brain — the hypothalamus, which regulates stress; and the ventral tegmental area, which plays a role in the brain’s reward system that produces feelings of pleasure. In other words, being grateful can help reduce stress and make us feel better.
Of course, some people seem to be naturally optimistic and hopeful, their glass is always half-full. But I also know it can be difficult to see the glass half-full if you feel like your glass is always springing a leak — and 2020 seemed to cause many leaks.
Still, even as the pandemic caused tremendous disruption and worse, some good things have happened as a result — things that might not have happened otherwise. And I think it might be good to list some of those, in the hope that anyone can be inspired to find some good for which to be thankful. So, consider that a result of the pandemic:
• Families have had a chance to spend more time together — and hopefully some of it was quality time.
• Children have learned new skills, hopefully patience among them.
• Each of us has had to become more flexible and resilient, responding to the unexpected.
• Neighbors supported neighbors, communities came together.
• Pollution decreased.
• Restaurants shared their secret recipes so we could make their meals at home.
• A lot of people made a lot of masks, many of which were donated to people in need.
• More people adopted pets.
• Musicians gave us personal concerts from home on social media.
• People got creative — in so many ways –—to find ways to do things safely.
The pandemic may have given you things to be thankful for, too. Perhaps you no longer have to commute and you’ve been able to use the extra time for something you enjoy: hunting, reading, knitting, playing video games, playing music. Maybe you’ve learned a new skill, like cooking, because you’ve made the recipes your favorite restaurant posted online. Maybe you’ve adopted a new dog or cat that brightens you days. Maybe you even gotten closer to your family and been able to resolve some ongoing misunderstandings. Finally, if you haven’t gotten ill with COVID-19, you can be thankful for that. A lot of people have, and a lot lost their lives.
Still, I understand some people continue to face serious challenges as a result of the pandemic. But I do think there are always things to be thankful for, and that finding those things in your life is always important. I’d like to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season filled with good times, good food and gratitude.
Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for mental health, addiction and intellectual developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Whitfield and Murray counties.