There are two things I hate about November: “Novembeard,” where most of the guys I know grow out beards in about two days that shame the one I’ve been trying to maintain for the past several years, and “30 Days of Thankfulness,” where many of my friends and acquaintances post something they’re thankful for every day on Facebook.
Most of the beards come off once December rolls around, so I get a little reprieve there. These thankful people tend to not go away, though, and that bothers me. I don’t understand how they can be so grateful all the time. Just like those thick and full beards grow in all around me, being thankful seems to come so much easier to some than it does for me. The worst part is that I know I have many, many things to be thankful for, so even when I do manage to appreciate something it’s accompanied by a heaping helping of guilt that seeing others express gratitude bugs me so much.
Negative thinking and pessimism are commonly listed as two of the hallmarks of dysthymic disorder, so a large factor in overcoming it (or at least learning to live with it) is learning to be thankful for things. One of my “homework” assignments for this week has been to either maintain a journal or blog of gratitude. This particular assignment is due in just a few hours, and this is the first thing I’ve done to try to complete it. Hey, I believe I just thought of one thing to be thankful for right there – the fact I’m not graded on how well I complete my weekly counseling assignments.
The real trick of positive thinking and thankfulness, though, is one I’m not even close to mastering yet. I have difficulty forming positive thoughts without framing them in some negative context. The final sentence of the previous paragraph illustrates this perfectly. I’m thankful for the non-grading aspect, but the only reason I am is because I feel like I do a crappy job on the homework assignments. There’s still a guilt element there, a dark spot of negativity on an otherwise sunny statement. It’s sort of like spinning your wheels in the mud: You’re going really fast, but you’re not really going anywhere.
In light of realizing this, I’ve been attempting to catch what I consider to be the rare times in life when there can be no other option besides thankfulness. Looking hard, though, hasn’t yielded much in the way of results. Instead of kicking down my door with guns blazing, gratitude has been creeping up on me in the most unexpected moments. Sitting at a restaurant with my family; listening to my favorite podcast; repairing a gutter on my house; learning the surgery on my mom’s broken leg was successful; or even getting to sleep in an extra 30 minutes on Saturday morning.
I’ve had plenty of landmark things to be thankful for this year. I mean, when you have a 5-month-old who survives open heart surgery, you learn a whole new level of gratitude. That’s a major event, though. Can I be thankful we have enough money to clothe our children when my son leaves his socks lying all around the house? Will I recognize the privilege of having a job when I have to wake up at 4 a.m. to get there? Will I be grateful for the ability to play the guitar when I hit a wrong note in front of a listening audience? Sometimes it’s more difficult to be thankful when the small trials arise than when the big catastrophes come.
Truth be told, I’m envious of all those thankful people I mentioned before. I’m envious of the way they’re able to focus on the positive things in front of them and not on the negative things behind them or the unknown future to come. Deep down, I’m probably happy they’re thankful people, and I don’t really hate their posts about thankfulness. I’m still not over the beard thing, though. That’s just unfair.