Couplespeak™ Blog

Thanksgiving 2020 and Permission Not to Be So Thankful This Year

I read this CNN article and thought it was very timely and right on, I couldn’t have made this point any more clearly, so I’ve re-printed it.

I hope you relate to it, and I’d say “Happy Thanksgiving!” but that kind of goes against the whole point here!

Enjoy your meal, whatever company you can safely have, and hopefully, the day off……

Susan

You have permission to not be thankful this Thanksgiving

By Allison Hope, CNN

Updated November 23, 2020

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Author Allison Hope intends to focus on eating her feelings about 2020 with extra helpings of sweet potato pie this Thanksgiving.

(CNN)The gratitude is being dished out in platitudes this Thanksgiving.

“This Thanksgiving’s a bust, but try to focus on gratitude,” advised one health site, a precursor to a warning to avoid gathering outside our immediate households for the holidays.

“Share gratitude, not COVID this Thanksgiving,” another warned.

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You can serve up a portion of gratitude for your Thanksgiving this year, but don’t expect me to join you. I am going to focus on eating my feelings with extra helpings of sweet potato pie that I don’t have to share with anyone — because no one else is coming to Thanksgiving.

In a year when a once-in-a-century pandemic collided with social and political unrest, an unhinging economy and job market, and increasingly severe weather events, I vacillate between feeling something more akin to sheer terror. That’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from gratitude. My cornucopia is impacted by supply chain shortages, global trade wars and an impending dark winter that is coming more quickly than I’d like.

I have plenty to be grateful for, I know. I remain gainfully employed and am privileged enough to get to work from home. As of this writing, I still have my health, not having yet caught the virus (knock on everything) that has killed more than 1.3 million people around the world. While I know people who have died from Covid-19, including those my age in my extended networks, my immediate circle remains, for the most part, well.

And yet. I am incapable of feeling the joy that has, for every Thanksgiving prior to 2020, accompanied me to the homes of friends and family. There will be no road trips, no extended family hugs, no old friends in town visiting and reminiscing over a tall cold one, no spontaneous moments featuring new characters. This year is all plot twists without the comic relief.

I have landed in a new place this year, one where it’s perfectly acceptable to want people to take their gratitude and shove it up this year’s pathetically small turkey cavity.

Yes, I retain the right to feel full-on Scrooge this year, and I invite you to join me.

After all, forcing yourself to feel happy or gracious — when you simply don’t — isn’t a helpful thing to do. Forced positive thinking, in fact, does not make you happier, according to experts.

“The practice of gratitude has become popular in recent years, and it can be valuable, but not as a forced one,” said Thandiwe Dee Watts-Jones, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at the Ackerman Institute, a family therapy institute in New York City.

Forced gratitude is not constructive

We’ve all heard from any number of self-help research and books and podcasts and gurus that gratitude is a necessary embodiment to help us live fulfilling lives. But the truth is, sometimes gratitude just isn’t possible.

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Still, we might try in small ways to attach to some hope before diving back into that apple pie.

“As we approach the holidays dominated by losses, uncertainty, and human depravity, we can still be open, in a gentle way, to noticing what is good in our lives, what or who is holding us, a child’s smile, a poem, someone’s love, perhaps spirit,” Watts-Jones said. “We can allow appreciation for whatever beauty we may still see, even in the face of suffering, and if not, accept that at this moment, it is enough to be where you are.”

After our brief interlude with gratitude, feel free to snuggle back up to your inner bah humbug.

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If we’re getting real, Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American tradition (sorry, Canada, I am not counting you) whose origins are murky at best. In true fake news fashion, the original Thanksgiving story reeks of propaganda, a tale we take at face value to feel good about American history and to stuff our faces.

In reality, the story of Thanksgiving does nothing more than paint American lipstick on the proverbial colonial pig, hiding the true barbarism of a time when White men first set foot on the land that they would go on to claim, along with the lives of the vast majority of people already living there, whether by force or happenstance via smallpox.

There was no turkey, no ubiquitous kumbaya. In fact, the only thing that was widespread between America’s earliest settlers and the Native Americans was a deadly contagion that disproportionately took out people of color. Sound familiar? Maybe the first Thanksgiving has more in common with this year than ever before. Many emotions rise to the surface, but gratitude is not one of them.

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In the spirit of Festivus for the rest of us, and celebrating the anti-holiday to air grievances rather than pleasantries, I hereby rename Thanksgiving 2020 “Grumpstaking,” whereby we allow ourselves to feel whatever range of negative emotions we damn well feel like feeling without the pressure to proclaim all that we’re grateful for.

Don’t worry, you can eat all the pie.

Allison Hope is a writer and native New Yorker who favors humor over sadness, travel over television, and coffee over sleep.



Rethinking Our Notions About “Productivity”

I’m sharing this beautifully written blogpost with you from Cindy Giovagnoli about expanding our definitions of “productivity.” This is a subject I find personally and professionally very relevant, and one that I think you may too, so I’m delighted that she gave me permission to reprint it here to share with you, my readers.

Cindy is a gifted photographer, artist, writer, podcaster, website developer, adventurer and nature lover whom I did a podcast with a few years ago about “Noticing.” She’s a funny, honest, wise old soul whose thoughts and ideas can be found at: StayCurious@CindyGiovagnoli.com.

Enjoy!                                                                                                                                                                                                      Susan

 

A few days ago, I took Chili Dog over to my favorite local running trails so that he and I could both stretch our legs and breathe in some wild air away from the sounds of cars and people and busy-ness.

It was drizzly and a little raw (Seattle winter, anyone?), but I actually love the woods in that weather- it feels extra quiet and mysterious and there tends to be fewer people on the trails.

As Chili and I began, I ran through my mental list of things “to do” while I was out there. I wanted to brainstorm a writing project and some website tweaks I’m making behind the scenes. I wanted to think about possible applications for some advice I’d heard on a podcast episode. Think through the structure of a class I’ll be offering locally in 2020.

I pulled up the “notes” app on my phone, ready to jot down what came to me. As I was looking down at my screen, a bigleaf maple leaf fell from the tree above me and landed across my phone.

How’s that for a sign from the universe?

As I peeled the enormous damp leaf from my phone, I realized that I’d fallen into a mindset trap that can sneak up on us without our noticing: the idea that “being productive” is the highest value on our time.
It was a Tuesday in the middle of the day- didn’t I have to justify my hours in the woods with some kind of work product?

There are two big problems with that idea:

(1) It defines “productive” as relating solely to work product, to tangible, measurable outcomes related to how I make my living. That’s a pretty narrow definition.

What about how I do my living? As in, the quality of my life? Of my days? They’re numbered, after all. Such is the reality of mortality.

So why wouldn’t my definition of “productive” include things that bring health, wellness, wonder, awe, peace, or simple joy to my days?

It should.

Walking in the woods, reading a novel, meeting a friend for great conversation over coffee, sketching in my journal, taking in an exhibit…even binge-watching Netflix in the right circumstances- these can all qualify as “productive” tasks when we broaden the definition to include the things that make our lives richer and more enjoyable.

(2) If we’ve decided that being “productive” (even in it’s broadened definition) is the absolute highest value we can place on our time, we’ve disregarded the power of blank space in our lives. And blank space is where a lot of magic happens.

Part of what led me to a “to do” list of brainstorming ideas while on a walk in the woods is the fact that I often have breakthroughs and game-changing ideas when I’m out on such an excursion.

But.

The reason that those breakthroughs and ideas happen is usually due to the fact that I’ve allowed my mind free time. I’ve allowed boredom and daydreaming and for my thoughts to wander where they will at random.

It’s amazing what can pop up when we allow our brains to do their own thing for a bit. It’s why so many ideas land on people while they’re in the shower.

Connections are made. Problems are solved. Ideas take shape.

But there’s no way to force this. There’s no way to prompt it.

We simply have to leave some blank space and then see what happens.

Sometimes that space will result in ideas or breakthroughs and sometimes it won’t. You never know.

At worst, we end up with a brain that got a bit of rest. Not such a bad deal, really.

So I invite you to broaden your definition of “productive” to include the things that add richness and meaning and joy to your life, regardless of whether they have a measurable outcome that makes money or not. And also to allow for some blank space for boredom and daydreaming and letting your mind wander at will.

I’d like to hear what that looks like for you, so hit reply and tell me- how do you define productive and where do you find some space in your days?

Stay curious out there!

P.S. I’m a little late this week, but I’ll be going live in The Curiosity Cabinet tomorrow at 12 noon EST. I hope you’ll join me for 10-15 minutes of talking a bit about embracing these ideas of re-defined productivity and the value of empty space in our lives!

I’m Finally Back….

If you’re a follower of this blog you may have been wondering where I was all summer – why no posts?? Where’s the new material, any new tools or resources, even just thoughts?

The answer is: I’ve been having too much fun practicing what I preach to clients: nourishing connection with self, family and friends, mostly outside, nowhere near a computer! I’ve put away the devices, as we all should do with some intentionality, and practiced more face-to-face experiences. How can a cell phone or a laptop compete with a glorious, sunny 80 degree day on the lake with beloved family or friends? How can researching and posting about all the new resources for creating joy and meaning compete with the meaning derived by loving up the local shelter dogs each Monday? And what “work-related” activity on Earth can compete with days at the beach or the park with our irrepressible two year old granddaughter Anna and Old Soul grand-dog Barley? What thoughtful article or diligent new podcast could possibly compete with immersion in the magnificence of our coast, our mountains, our rivers and forests here in the Northeast for the measly three months of friendly weather? None!!!

Then, there’s the other knee with it’s own torn meniscus, amplifying a sense of needing to “make hay while the sun shines”, knowing the inevitable surgery is around the corner (successfully completed today), bringing with it mandatory vegging out on the couch and a perfect opportunity to get back together with all my devices, my writing, my internal world.

So, there you have it – iced knee on pillows, hoping for crappy weather to avoid FOMO, and lots to share once again with you, my gentle readers whom I hope will forgive my incognito, hedonistic summer and know that I’m finally back…

Susan

A Second Important Question for Spouses with Kids

(Here’s the second very good question Parenting NH magazine asked me recently):

What are some practical tips and ways for parents to prioritize their relationship as spouses/partners?

Most people know about the importance of setting aside quality time together through things like “date night.” Having a planned, ritualized time alone with your partner amplifies your “couple-ness” through shared experiences, reminding you about your reasons for choosing and staying with each other. I encourage couples to ramp it up a notch by taking turns with the planning, each putting energy into the “work” of connection.

Sometimes surprise experiences can expand a sense of fun, and even ramp up friendly competition. Anticipating and later reminiscing about these events can actually build happy neural pathways in your brains!

Novelty and a shared sense of discovery by doing new things together also generates excitement and joy, which are important antidotes to the doldrums which often plague long term relationships.

Equally as important, build mini “pockets of connection” into your everyday life as a couple. Don’t overload date nights with too much expectation, especially if you can’t manage to have them regularly and frequently. Instead, look for small, subtle moments of sharing by being intentional about them:

– If you’re getting dinner ready, create a shared experience with some conversation and a glass of wine while you prepare the meal.

– If the kids are in bed sit on the deck or the porch and watch the stars come out together. Talk about your dreams and passions, not just who aced it at your kid’s soccer game.

– If you’re watching a TV program sit next to each other and use the commercial breaks to have a snack and share your thoughts about the program.

– “Kill two birds with one stone” and have some lively conversation while you walk your dog.

However brief your time together may be, protect it from outside intrusion. Get more comfortable saying “No, thank you” to invitations that might cut in on the two of you too often. Set boundaries and prioritize your time together, even if it’s not a Hallmark moment.

Whatever you do together, be intentional about it, be present, and put down your cellphones! Texts, Facebook, and Instagram can wait, unless they’re shared activities you both enjoy. Here again, remember that one way or the other, your kids are watching, and you’re giving them a template for either a loving, respectful partnership, or an empty one.

It’s All About The Ball!

 
When it comes to how we live our lives, ask any dog, especially Tucker above, and they’ll show you that we’ve got our priorities all wrong – sideways, so to speak.
 
Tucker is my morning pal, the next door neighbor’s dog, and my big, handsome blonde Teacher of All Things, Big and Small. We run around and walk the trails behind my house every morning, Tucker attached like cement to his green ball. When I’m tired or cranky he reminds me that “it’s all about The Ball, get over it!” When it’s buggy or muggy or rainy like today, we both get bitten and soggy, but the Ball Game has to go on! A little rainfall won’t kill anyone. So what if there are some inconveniences?
 
Tucker has taught me not to make such a big deal of piles of snow, the early hour after a late night, muddy boots and trampled garden beds. He reminds me of the importance of promises, some predictability, and mostly the importance of being present in connection and having FUN in life. He helps me see that Quickbooks and emails can wait, calls can be returned later, but for a guy with only about 5 more years to live, the time is NOW for The Ball!
 
If you don’t have a Tucker in your life like I do, trust me that you’ll live longer and happier if you listen to and practice his “words” of wisdom: It’s all about The Ball!
 
If you’re on your own and need help getting your priorities straight, feel free to contact me – I’d be glad to help!
 
Susan Lager
603-431-7131

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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