Suggested ideas for those having trouble giving thanks

Thanksgiving these days is a b-b-bear.

I don’t mean the holiday Thanksgiving (as in upper case “T”) that we just celebrated. What’s not to love about Turkey day?

Family, giblet gravy, another week-long break in the rotating, intermittent vacation-palooza that is the American public-school calendar, a Tony Romo interception marathon followed by an R.E.M. rockin’ nap and dreams of mashed potatoes a second time around. Even for a cynic, even during a recession, even in spite of the turkey-incited gastrointestinal chaos that the doctor calls acid reflux, Thanksgiving, the holiday is always, always, a breezy, easy blast.

Thanksgiving is a little island of happiness and hope, like April 15, only in reverse.

But the act of thanksgiving itself (that’s lower case “t” for those students who were on bimonthly vacation the week that capitalization was being taught), well, it requires a little more work these days.

Because, let’s be honest with ourselves, it is bad out there right now.

Unemployment and underemployment are pervasive. Lingering not far behind are the ugly re-emergence of unwanted social ills — crime and foreclosure, bankruptcy, bad loans, bad debt, bad investments, displacement and, yes, even divorce, something I have recently experienced myself.

Even on a holiday whose stated directive is the giving of thanks, this particular year it’s a little hard not to get stuck on the darker, more difficult thought of all the people whose life, whose fortune, whose hope for a better future (and an early retirement) have been replaced by struggle, sadness and a whimsical wish that things would just get better — even just a little.

It’s hard out there. It just is.

If you’re finding the act of thanksgiving a little difficult for all these stated reasons — and the public opinion pollsters assure me that a fair number of you are — there are essentially three strategies to carry you through.

First, you could phone it in, behave like a thumb-sucking whiner and just hope that things get better by next November. But this approach hasn’t worked for President Obama, and it’s not likely to do much for you.

Second, you could rely on a not-necessarily-clinically-recommended outlet to distract yourself until things get better. Your therapist might call this avoidance.

In this category, some of you will immediately jump to thoughts of cheap wine, but I would strongly recommend against it. Bad wine, when taken in excess, can cause dependency. It does cause hangovers, and those bulky wine boxes take up too much room in the fridge.

Some of you may be thinking of a trip to Vegas. I’m no Dr. Phil, but I am fairly certain that dropping the last 2k on your Visa won’t markedly improve your outlook on life — not after the trip, at least.

Still others of you might consider joining the Occupy Wall Street marchers. This would be a more plausible coping strategy if liberal hippies didn’t grate, and pepper spray hadn’t been invented. But they do, and it has, so “occupying” comes with too much personal risk.

Avoidance, while an understandable human reaction, turns out not to be a very good cure for thanksgiving-blockage either.

Which leads to the third and final option for getting beyond the struggles that make giving thanks a b-b-bear:  Suck it up and focus on what matters.

And for these great and wonderful things in life, give thanks:

If you have children or grandchildren or a big floppy-eared housemate who loves you no matter the status of your 401(k), you have reason to give thanks.

If you have parents or dear friends who call and who care, for that give thanks.

Are you and your loved ones healthy? Be thankful.

If you have a roof over your head, even if it is worth (a lot) less than it was three years ago, and even if you don’t own it, you have reason to bow your head and say, “Thank you.”

Yes, if you call the United States of America home, give thanks, because you live in a place that is the envy of the world and of the generations.

In the fog of a difficult moment, it is sometimes easy to forget that we are, at base, a blessed and fortunate people. Thanksgiving (lower case “t”) might not come easily these days, but that doesn’t change the imperatives of this holiday — for the things that truly matter in life, give thanks.

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate minority leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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