Let's Give Thanks

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Family and friends gather for a feast and the underlying mood is that we all belong to something greater than ourselves. We laugh, we debate, we loosen our belts. Each year we rediscover what is truly important.

When I was a kid the extended family would gather at my grandparent’s house. We would marvel at all the food, and we would laugh that just about all of it was some shade of brown. My cousins and I would retreat to the basement after dinner for the art contest. We’d draw our best turkey and, with great ceremony and all the adults present, my grandfather would judge the results and hand out prizes. Of course everybody won, each in a category that Grandpa made up that would both revere and make fun of the piece of art. I’ve won a lot of prizes in life, but none left me with the joy and pride of standing before the people who love me and accepting the award for something like “best use of blue in a turkey foot.” Thanksgiving became a little less magical when I aged out of the contest.

I’ve been fortunate in my family. But I think most people have. The terror of psychotherapy for a lot of people is that the first thing the therapist does in go rummaging around the past for some failing of a parent on which to blame one’s psychological difficulties. I’ve always ducked this discussion. I’ve often refused to have it. Not because I’m hiding from something but because there is no there there. My family, like any other, had its challenges. But it is solid and supportive and I’m a way better person for being born into it. I know a lot of people and that is most people’s experience.

The same goes for my marriage and my life today. My wife, through her patient and reinforcing support, has made the work I do with my writing and teaching possible. Oh she is New Jersey loud, quick to anger with a booming voice that is ALL CAPS. But she is understanding and empathetic and in a supportive way drives me to do my best. And to love. That my moods and my occasional poor management of them sometime lead me to treat her badly does damage that in some celestial way she gets over and continues on with me.

At some point we’ve all wronged each other, yet the good we have in us would not be possible without people like this, without people like my wife and my parents, who touch and influence our lives. We have a holiday to thank them. We should embrace this gratitude and make sure that they know, and more importantly make sure that we ourselves know, all the good they do for us.

Of course not everyone has a positive experience within their families. But I think most people do. And in this age of petty political differences, denial of self-responsibility for our own failings, and embrace of all the darkness of victimhood, we should look in the eye the people who bring us up and walk with us and say, “Thank you.”

Community comes up over and over again in my work, for I think psychology’s focus on inner experience just leads to selfish, self-absorbed people who are left only to blame others for their failure to thrive. Only in community can we truly find our worth and fully express ourselves, and only in community can we find the support we need to get through the difficulties of life and to make overcoming those difficulties meaningful and worthwhile. The answer is not inside ourselves. The answer is with the people, the values and the faith that support us in life. Community molds us, and community requires gratitude.

As part of something greater than ourselves we can find mental health. And we can find love and purpose. The answers are not within us. The answers are within our families and our marriages and our friendships and our workplaces and our churches. We are social beings. We should be grateful for this. For in gratitude all is worthwhile and endurable. When thankful we find meaning in good and bad. Gratitude drives community and community forms and supports the individuals we are. We can be positive or negative. We can be of good mind or bad. In gratitude the positive and good are a lot more likely.

So this Thanksgiving let’s focus on what really matters, find our commonality and give thanks. I couldn’t stare down bipolar disorder alone. So to my wife, my daughter, my parents, my family and all my friends – Thank you.

Thank you for reading my work. To take a look at and pre-order my upcoming book Practicing Mental Illness, please click here.