Mental Health & Wellness

Create New Traditions: Express Gratitude On Your Terms

I love autumn; it’s one of my favorite seasons. Though the initial transition from warm sunny skies to cool crisp air is difficult for me each year, looking back, I appreciate the duality that this time of year brings. Leaves brilliantly change their colors from green to gold, orange, and red, and they give a final performance as they separate from their branches. With them, lessons of transformation, beauty, release, loss, and grief in gentle, wispy motions.

Autumn is also the start of the holiday season, a time marked by celebrations, traditions, and expectations. During this time, there’s a deep emphasis on expressing gratitude. With a positive, cheerful attitude, be thankful for what you do have and focus less on what you don’t. The holidays are not the times for complaining, lest you sound ungrateful. This aspect of the year has always felt odd to me. The problem areas of your life didn’t pause as the season approached; we experience unique challenges every day. Expressing dissatisfaction doesn’t cancel out gratefulness. An emphasis on performing cheer feels inauthentic. I think in a country that uses violence and oppression to sustain its functioning, compulsory thankfulness feels like an ongoing tradition to keep us accepting less than we deserve.

I feel stifled from the full spectrum of my experiences when expressing my discontent is met with an insistence to be grateful. Who said I was not? I express gratitude daily as a method to keep me grounded in the present and reframe my thoughts. It is a reflection and a reminder of what is going right, the roads that led me here, and how to find value in different outcomes. It is within that gratitude that I find areas of improvement, unmet needs, and new desires. I appreciate what I have and my life so much that I am willing to acknowledge the harm or incompatibility and advocate for myself.

Gratitude can sometimes feel like a cage, keeping you contained in unhelpful situations as you keep trying to find the good in everything. If we stay in settings and around people that negatively impact us, gratitude can only boost us so much. Sometimes we have to voice or make a change to get more than our basic needs met. Unfortunately, the people who can’t meet your needs, or their own, may label you as ungrateful. You can be grateful for the clarity and move forward with changes that work for you, even if they’re scary, uncomfortable, and lonely.

As you reflect and stay warm during this season, I hope you will honor the fullness of your experiences and express gratitude for who you are and how you got here. I hope you allow yourself a chance to acknowledge what’s not working well and make decisions that are best for you. I hope you show yourself compassion for your past and present. And, I hope you know that every day, month, year, or season is an opportunity to create your own new traditions.

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