Happy Gratitude Day

“I just don’t know what to celebrate on Thanksgiving,” said my friend. “I want to spend the day with my family eating Turkey, but I hate what the day represents to so many of my friends.”

I understand completely. How can we celebrate a day that marks the beginning of the end of the Native Peoples who lived here before my ancestors came and murdered them? And yet the tradition of gathering with friends and family to celebrate what we’re thankful for has a strong place in our culture. I’ve celebrated this day since childhood. How do we make peace with it?

Take out the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock and all that BS about the friendly Native Americans. Focus on what is real: Gratitude. What are you thankful for? Really look at it. Because that’s what we’re really celebrating on this day. Look at everything you have and say “Thank You.”

Thank you for my health. Thank you for the food on my table and the friends in my life. Thank you for indoor plumbing and clean water and the roof over my head. Thank you for the generosity of strangers who help me every day. Thank you for all the little things I take for granted and the big things I call gifts. Thank you for my life.

I acknowledge the crimes of my ancestors and I am grateful that I can make amends by learning and doing better. That’s what our country is struggling with right now, and we need to struggle with it. Glossing over the atrocities by celebrating a myth perpetuates those atrocities. The reality is that our country is young and volatile and full of bloodshed. It is also beautiful and hopeful. We can celebrate our history and mourn those who died from that history. Eat that turkey and pumpkin pie, celebrate your family, but leave Plymouth Rock out of it.

Today is Gratitude Day. Be grateful for all that is good in your life.

Is there a difference between gratitude and happiness?

This summer, I began a 150 day happiness challenge on Facebook. Every day I would post something that made me happy. It felt important I do this because I was overwhelmed with fear and anger from my husband’s cancer. Suddenly, I was the caregiver for two medically fragile people, my husband and my daughter, and the emotional toll made getting out of bed difficult. So I started looking for things to make me happy.

Quickly, the exercise felt phony. Very little made me happy. Writing about the joy I found in my morning coffee was silly, and how many times could I write about my garden? Happiness? What was that? I was happy just to get through the day.

Then I realized that I was actually writing down things I was grateful for. Having that morning cup of coffee helped ease me out of bed, and I was grateful for that. Watching my garden grow filled me with gratitude because I could feed my family while supporting wild bees. Gratitude was the best I could do. Happiness was like chasing a mirage.

What is gratitude? To me, it is an awareness of the gifts I have in my life. The simple things, like a warm bed, health insurance and the internet. I am grateful my husband’s cancer seems to be gone and I am grateful my daughter is thriving in her new school. I am grateful for her teachers. Grateful my car is running and I can afford new tires for winter. These things don’t make me happy; they make me grateful for my life.

As the weeks went by and I forced myself to post a gratitude, an interesting shift in my awareness occurred. The more I focused on gratitude, the more I felt happiness. Where did this happiness come from? Circumstances hadn’t changed. My husband still struggled to recover and my daughter still had bad days, but she also had good ones. There were days I wanted to cry from the weight of the emotional load I constantly carried, but on that same day I’d smile watching the dog chase leaves across the back yard.

I am not in denial; things are bad. Frightening. Cancer lurks and my daughter could decline any time. Money is tight and I still don’t have job. The future is one big scary unknown and the odds aren’t in our favor.

In searching for any small, random thing I felt grateful for, I uncovered a rich source of joy. Happiness fluctuates. But gratitude is constant. WhenI feel happiness has vanished and I’m left alone fighting my battles, gratitude holds me up. I am grateful for my strong, weary body. I am grateful for love. I am grateful it rained today.

Or is there really any difference between gratitude and happiness? Can you feel one without the other?