I love this time of year. Not only is it the kick off to the holiday season, it is the month that hosts my birthday! My Mom used to make such a big deal out of my birthday not only the day itself but the lead up to it as she planned for every detail. My next door neighbor’s Mom would do the same and also throw me a birthday party every year. While I loved the attention from these two wonderful women, I also loved their thoughtfulness. I was filled with gratitude for what they did for me. Being a very observant little kid I was keenly aware of the sacrifice that came with my birthday celebration both in my household and my next door neighbor’s household. There were many other issues underlying why it would have been easier for both these women to not go to the trouble and expense of throwing me a party. Knowing and observing this helped develop my feelings of gratitude. I think it also was the beginning of my training to be a counselor. I always sought to understand why people do the things they do such as in this case throwing a party for someone when there were so many reasons to funnel resources in another needed direction.
As a counselor I spend a lot of time teaching clients how to be more positive. It is a theoretical approach called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. You teach clients a new positive mental script so they can turn from negative dysfunctional thinking which increases their issues such as depression and anxiety to a more positive healthy thinking pattern which conversely decreases these issues, at least theoretically. This is basically counselor talk for learning how to be grateful. Many of the clients we deal with have never learned how to look at life in a positive way. They have become victims of their own thoughts stuck in a downward spiral of negative self defeating self focus. They have never learned how to be grateful.
I would like to say I have mastered this area in my life, but like everyone else I am a work in progress. We all can get stuck in this downward spiral of negativity. It can start from something insignificant. We feel we are having a bad day. We think it, then we speak it, and then we live it out in a self prophetic way. We share it with others reliving it. We ruminate over it in our mind allowing it to keep us up at night. We get stuck in it.
One day years ago I had a doctor’s appointment to get some stitches removed at a very large hospital I had never been to before. As I stressed about finding it and then found a parking spot in the largest parking garage I had ever seen, my mood increasingly deteriorated to that of complete negativity. I was late. I didn’t know exactly where in the hospital this doctor was located. I was stressed. I was annoyed. I was in a bad mood. What a pain I thought. I have to walk all this way. Now I will be late. Then I will have to walk all the way back and I certainly did not wear the right shoes for all this walking. I probably will not be able to find my car and will wander around this smelly garage for hours. Why did I get sent here? Why couldn’t this doctor meet me at his office where I knew I was going instead of this hospital that I have never been to? Why did I have to come here? What a waste of my time! As I was getting sucked down that spiral of negativity by such an insignificant set of circumstances, a woman was wheeled by me in a wheelchair. She was quite pale. She had no eyebrows or eyelashes. She had a turban on and a bucket between her legs in case she needed to throw up. She must have just received chemo. She looked up at me and smiled. Why I am not sure as I must have had a scowl on my face or perhaps that is the very reason she did. I will never forget how kind she looked when she smiled at me. It reminded me how ridiculous my thinking was. Her smile reminded me that my visit to the doctor was quite minor-a removal of stitches from my appendectomy that thankfully was caught in time and didn’t rupture. Suddenly I was struck by my own lack of gratitude. I wasn’t facing chemo. I wasn’t throwing up in a metal bucket. I was being incredibly ungrateful, complaining about being here for the removal of stitches which potentially may have saved my very life.
At this time of year when the world attempts to focus on being grateful let’s not just mouth the words while complaining that the turkey is dry or how early we are going to get up on Black Friday or worse Brown Thursday as this very special and very-overlooked holiday gets whittled away each year. Let’s not simply recite our gratitude because it is Thanksgiving. Let’s truly think it, speak it and live it out. Let’s truly look at life as a gift and be thankful for it. If a woman in a turban can do it so can we.
Contributed by Kelle Watson, M.A. L.P.C., Director of Mental Health Counseling