Unseen Blessings: Are We Truly Thankful?

dog in laundry basket, thankful
Pippa claims she is “helping” with laundry *head desk*

At least in the U.S., this is a week where we celebrate all we are thankful for (or at least it is supposed to be). In our modern world, I believe it is easy to take WAY too much for granted. Hey, I’m completely guilty of forgetting all my blessings and letting the silliest stuff steal my joy.

Since all y’all (correct Texas grammar) are perfect, I’ll just list some ways I can consistently fall short.

The microwave took a WHOLE two minutes to make the popcorn and it didn’t even pop ALL the kernels.

I needed to remember the other ingredients to the recipe, but the wifi in my grocery store is terrible. Is it too much to ask that a message from SPACE be delivered instantly?

The store was out of whole bean coffee and only had the ground stuff.

The dryer took too long to dry my clothes so I had to wear something else.

My iPhone 13 had to update AGAIN, and like totally in the middle of me listening to a podcast.

Okay, I’ll stop. I’m starting to want to punch myself in the face, 😛 .

FUN FACT:

Gratitude does not come naturally. Humans are biologically WIRED to seek out problems because we lived tens of thousands of years without a Walmart, IKEA, or Amazon. Being able to spot every problem possible (real, potential, or imagined) literally meant the difference between life and death.

lava and quicksand meme, thankful

Now that the whole “being devoured by wolves” thing is, by and large, handled, our brains still haven’t gotten the memo.

But seriously, how many times do we find ourselves complaining or even frustrated over the silliest things?

I cannot be the only person who gripes about forgetting to buy enough salsa. Maybe I am. Judge all you like.

Thankful People are Happy People

When I first decided to become a writer, I wanted to set my story at the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. What did I do? I drove to the Ferrari dealership and took hostages made friends who could teach me about the world of racing.

Which was a really cool experience. I was able to meet professional race car drivers and ask questions. The one bit of advice that stood out to me had to do with how to win. Obviously, one has to FINISH the race to win. Kind of a prerequisite. Yet, what is an ever-present danger? Hitting the wall.

To combat this, drivers train to always keep their eyes where they want to go. Look at the wall and you hit the wall. Race car drivers learn that if you want to cross the finish line, always keep your eyes on the finish line.

Where the eye goes the mind (and car) follows.

This is VERY true in life.

We live in a consumer culture that is designed to sell us stuff. How do they do this? They tell us we don’t have enough. We’d be happy if we had a bigger house, a better car, a thinner body. Whether it’s Netflix or Instagram or Aunt Sheila, we’re continually fed a nonstop diet of the million ways we are not enough, how we could be better, and how much happier we’d be if only ______.

In short, modern Western culture is designed to keep our eyes on the wall. And then we’re mystified why we keep falling to pieces. This is why focusing on what we have that we are THANKFUL for can be so critical for mental, emotional, and relational health.

If all we see is where our partner or kid or family member messes up? Soon, that’s ALL we’ll see. When we fail to ever recognize all the things we do right, that we accomplish, where we shine, and only fixate on how we fall short? It won’t take long before we’re an emotional wreck.

Life Can Be Hard

older man looking at photograph grieving, thankful

Before we talk more about gratitude…

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about toxic optimism called Optimism Overdose: Sometimes Life STINKS. At the time, my FIL was in hospice. Not long after that post, he passed away. Life can be uncertain. There is genuine pain, suffering, and grief and it is equally important we recognize these emotions and feel them as well.

When we fail to authentically experience the negative emotions, they can manifest as depression, neuroses, physical pain, or chronic illness.

That said, I recall a (now) funny story about when I first decided to become a writer. I’d love to tell y’all it was an amazing time, but far from it. In 2001, I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy and had to resign from a very good-paying job. My health was shattered, and my ego was in whatever is worse than the toilet and lower than the gutter. I lost my apartment, most of my belongings, was unable to drive…and had to move in with my mom.

And So It Goes…

One day, I was lying in bed and my mom asked if I was depressed. In a rare moment of clarity/honesty, I said, “No. I am angry, disappointed, jaded, bitter, and generally pissed off that I’ve failed so badly at life.”

The funny thing about that? Once I OWNED those feelings, I actually felt a lot better. I’d identified what was genuinely wrong and could then work forward from there.

Now, please, do not take this as a sweeping generalization for all forms of depression. This was merely MY experience.

But even the great Carl Jung said:

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

Carl Jung

I understand there are times it is genuinely hard to be thankful.

I’ve lived many holiday seasons where I didn’t know if we’d have food, or was struggling to pay the bills, get a job/keep a job, grieving the loss of yet another loved one, trapped in the Jerry Springer family get-together from HELL. In fact, for me, the holidays have a lot more bad memories than good (though been working on that).

So I GET it.

Yet, I think when life feels as if it is caving in, that we just can’t take one more step without shattering, that is the time we need gratitude the most.

Thankful for Thanksgiving

watercolor painting of pumpkins, Thanksgiving, Kristen Lamb, thankful

Thanksgiving seems to be the middle child of holidays. Halloween is fun and glitzy and exciting. Christmas is shiny, has merch and movies and parties and gifts…and oh yeah, there’s Thanksgiving.

Hey, do we even have decorations for that?

Christmas is this magical time, and we often hear how we need to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long. Well, that is a great idea, but we would be wise to keep Thanksgiving there, too.

We have all kinds of ways to be thankful and many things to be grateful for that we might not even notice. The next time you go to complain, I challenge you to think of the blessing that inconvenience really is. I do this myself when I hear complaints and grumblings coming out of my mouth. YES, it is corny, but just roll with it.

I’ll show you what I mean…

Flipping the Script

I am thankful for all the laundry I have to do, because it means I have clothes to wear.

I am thankful for the pile of dirty dishes, because it means I didn’t go hungry.

I am thankful for the big electric bill, because it means my home has lights and heat.

I am thankful for the car that needs all new tires because it means I don’t have to walk miles and miles to get what I need.

I am thankful for that parking space waaaaayyyy out in the back, because it means I don’t have to park in a handicapped space. I’m able to walk.

I am thankful for the closets that need to be cleaned out, because it means I am blessed with plenty.

I am thankful I can’t have a Christmas tree because it means I have cats who break things, get fur all over my favorite outfits, puke in the middle of the night and ONLY on carpet. And seriously? This is why we can’t have nice things!

Wait, I WAS going somewhere with this.

Oh yes. They are cute and love us a lot…and are cute. And I also don’t need to take down a tree and put away a bunch of ornaments.

man at computer with cat in lap, thankful
Odin the Emotional Support Cat/Attention Whore

I am thankful for the split ends I have, because it means I haven’t lost all my hair to chemo.

I am thankful for the Christmas cards I need to send, because they could as easily be funeral announcements.

I am thankful for the traffic snarls that catch me, because the body the firemen pulled out of the fatality accident could have been me or someone I love.

I am thankful for my wrinkles and gray hair. Old age is a blessing denied to many.

I am thankful for my giant food bill, because it means I have a healthy son (who doesn’t have a stomach, he has a SINGULARITY).

Being Thankful is a Habit

The Christmas tree we need….

As I mentioned earlier, we aren’t wired to be grateful. Having an attitude of gratitude is very counterintuitive to our human nature.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and thankfulness are NOT natural. These are all qualities we have to be mindful to practice enough to make them habitual. And it is REALLY easy to backslide.

I am definitely thankful for all of you who bless me on this blog because it means y’all are willing to bless me with the most precious resource you have. TIME.

I’m immensely grateful you guys give to freely to me. You guys are the bright spot to each and every day in my world and the world around you. It is such an honor and privilege to serve you.

I love hearing from you!

What are you guys thankful for? I’d like to hear your comments (which I am super especially thankful to get, by the way). Do you have any struggles or stories you’d like to share? I can’t be the only one messed up 😛 .

And to show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Now I gotta go brine a turkey, and am THANKFUL I have to cook because it means I have food and family and friends. Have a fabulous holiday!

27 comments

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    • Margie Engmann on November 22, 2022 at 12:11 pm
    • Reply

    Your messages are always a gift. I have learned so much from you over the years. Now I just have to get off my ass and finish my book. Thankful for your wisdom and sense of humor!!! Xo

    1. Awwwww (((HUGS))). I appreciate hearing that.

      You are always welcome to join us at WANATribe for sprints. We are there M-F all day all year.

    • Christine E Robinson on November 22, 2022 at 12:46 pm
    • Reply

    Kristin, I’m thankful I read your post this morning. Family in WA, MT and CT. And I’m in CA. Thankful the WA family are in MT for Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for FaceTime so I can be there. And iPhone for CT. Sister refuses to do FaceTime (we’re both in our 80’s). She worries about old face wrinkles more than I do. I’m thankful for my 2 energetic Border Aussies (siblings 1-1/2 years old). ? No Christmas tree to put up & take down.?They’re chewers & diggers. I’m thankful for my significant other (of 33 years). He’s a Vietnam vet and I get to give generously (time, support & love) to someone who gave his service to our country. ?? I am thanked by other older vets that I am standing by him on good & bad days. So, a last thankful comment goes along with yours; enough food, heat, money, etc. And one more. I’m a first time author working on the book sequel. Thankful I still have a sharp, imaginative mind. Happy Thanksgiving, Kristen. ??

  1. What a fabulous post on gratefulness, Kristen! Thank you. Naturally, I have my off days…but I am ever grateful to be 90, despite it still being a strange notion, present with a picture of a gnarled, old bald lady with ‘Dodgy’ knees. BUT what is the alternative? No prizes for an answer…and I’m bald because of a temporary illness and not cancer, and get to wear cute wigs…So what about the knees – I’ve enjoyed Yoga, Pilates and Thai Chi over the years and did part-time work until I was 75, so not bad going, and mentally I’m around 50. I’ve also written and had published nine books – l0th The Dubrowski Portrait awaiting a mainstream-publisher (a mean, British pension and travel has left me poor, financially speaking) rich emotionally (with knobs on!) I also write a column in a local, Spanish/English newspaper, unpaid. It’s still a mystery where the years have gone, but I still have my lovely, charismatic, humorous husband and three worthy sons, plus…All credit to your super, seemingly effortless (?!) writing…Cheers. Joy xx

  2. Lots to be thankful for, including your robust list. Here’s a bit of mine.
    Sunshine
    Blossoms
    Fruit
    Forgiveness
    Love
    Family
    Friends
    Oxygen
    Gravity
    Trials (Although, my fingers might be gripped on the keys a little extra on that one.)
    Rain
    Laughter (Your post brought a little of this, so thank you.)
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Mary Foster on November 22, 2022 at 1:05 pm
    • Reply

    What a wonderful post, Kristen!
    Thank you, thank you, and ditto on all the positive comments.
    Speechless with appreciation and love for all you do!
    God bless.

  3. I love your list! Thank you for your blog! This year I’m thankful for God’s strength to get me through one moment at a time.

    • Tara Pada Brinkley on November 22, 2022 at 1:17 pm
    • Reply

    I’m thankful for laughter, and even though my husband passed away a year ago, my kids and I still found reasons to laugh.

  4. Great message. Thank you for all the reminders therein.

    • Kendolyn M Fisher on November 22, 2022 at 2:51 pm
    • Reply

    There is so much to be thankful for. My father was injured in WWII, a spinal cord injury that severed three quarters of his spinal cord. A brilliant young surgeon had just learned a new procedure and said dad was the perfect candidate for this spinal cord repair. It worked, and although he walked with a cane all his life, he taught me I can be strong in the face of adversity. Dad had to learn how to write again, to walk, had to choose a new career, he taught us gratitude for our country, our way of life, our freedoms, and I got older I saw his courage in choosing happiness when faced with the loss of being able to walk and run like others. I will always be grateful to him, his example, his love, his kindness, and I cherish being able to recognize his gratitude for the full life he was able to have.

      • Mary Foster on November 22, 2022 at 2:59 pm
      • Reply

      Tears can also come with gratitude, as they do when hearing about your father.
      Thank you for sharing his wonderful choice.

  5. Thank you for the smiles, laughter, and wisdom. I count on you for these and am rarely disappointed.
    I try to write one thing I’m grateful for every day. It has shifted my mindset because we all have so much to be thankful for…even without having to reframe anything. BUT I love using that as an exercise.
    And maybe I’m doubly thankful that my two cats could care less about the Christmas tree except as somewhere safe to sleep (underneath it and behind the gifts).
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. We don’t have Thanksgiving here in New Zealand, but when my husband and I got married he inadvertently started our tradition of thanking God at the end of the day for the good things that happened (and the bad things that didn’t). After more than eleven years of marriage, it’s nearly a reflex. Lights out, be thankful.

  7. Perfect timing as always, this is true magic and world wisdom -thank you!

  8. I’m thankful I signed up for your blog. I needed that message today.

    • Suzanne Lucero on November 22, 2022 at 6:48 pm
    • Reply

    As far as flipping the script goes …

    I’m grateful there were only 3 GNAs (geriatric nursing assistants) at work yesterday, ( there should have been 5), even though it meant I had to care for 16 residents (with varying levels of needs) and stay well after my shift ended to finish my tasks, because that means I HAVE a job.

  9. Many thanks, Kristen. I’ve been including Gratitudes in my daily journal and you’ve given me more ideas on how to go about this.

    • Jean Lamb on November 22, 2022 at 11:43 pm
    • Reply

    I am grateful the new med is finally working on my husband’s most recent problem (I will skip the details. Believe me, you do NOT want to know them).

    1. Oh (((HUGS))). Sometimes it seems the side-effects can be as bad if not worse than whatever they’re meant to treat. I am happy they are working so hopefully this, too, shall pass.

  10. When I was little, my grandfather gave me a book called Odd. I have no idea who wrote it, but the story stuck in my mind. A little girl, the middle one of five, found herself the odd one out. Her elder brother and sister had bonded before she was born, and the last two, I think, were twins. Her parents gave her a puppy. She loved this little dog to bits.
    The girl had always been religious and had heard how tribulation is important to help you grow emotionally and in strength of character (my words). One day, a rabid dog ran to attack her and her loved and faithful dog fought the other off. Sadly he caught rabies and had to be put down. She was devastated at first, then realised she had her first tribulation and thanked God for it.
    I am thankful that I still have my 80 year old husband.
    I am thankful for my two wonderful children and three equally wonderful grandchildren.
    I am thankful for the creative gifts I have been given.
    I am thankful for having a good education.
    I am thankful for all the love I received from my family, especially my grandparents, even though I was only 8 when Grandad died. (He was a wonderful and wise man .)
    I am grateful for this beautiful world we live in (even though we are doing our best to destroy it).
    I am grateful I am still able to enjoy long(ish) walks.

  11. This morning, I am grateful for you, Kristen. You and this post. I was literally trying to count my blessings (which are many) while backsliding into whining. Then I opened your email. Once again, you made my day.
    Oh, yeah – I’m also really thankful that you use “ya’ll” correctly ?. Makes this North Carolina girl smile every time.
    You’re the best.

    • Roger L Nay on November 23, 2022 at 11:42 am
    • Reply

    Great post and still the only blog I read without fail. Happy Thanksgiving.

  12. I love your list! Thank you for your blog! This year I’m thankful for God’s strength to get me through one moment at a time.

  13. Thanks for your gratitude list. I’m thankful for generous, caring, and thoughtful people, like you.

    • Magda Cawthorne on November 24, 2022 at 9:33 pm
    • Reply

    I am thankful that I fully read your email today instead of brushing over it. It came at a time I feel pretty negative due to back pain but I’m going to reframe my thoughts now. ??

  14. Great post! I love Thanksgiving, but I’ve been struggling this year. (My beloved 10 year old Labrador passed away in October). I usually make an effort when I’m stressed out to make myself stop and– like you talked about– re-frame the situation to see the positive and be grateful. But it’s hard sometimes. It helps to know that I’m not the only one.

    1. Yes, I know (((HUGS))). We lost two fur babies last year and my FIL passed this year. You might want to check out the “Optimism Overdose” post. It is also okay to NOT be okay.

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