Living Madly: Three Good Things

Photo courtesy of Monstera

Living Madly: Three Good Things

By Emilie-Noelle Provost

Thanksgiving is a week away, which to me seems a little crazy. It feels like it should still be early September, like I lost a couple of months someplace. It’s almost like the feeling you get when you fall asleep in the afternoon and wake up 11 p.m. wondering where the day went.

We have hosted Thanksgiving at our house since 2019, when my mother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. My sisters, brothers-in-law, stepfather, nieces, and nephews look forward to coming here for the holiday, and up until now I haven’t really minded all the shopping, cleaning, cooking, and organizing that pulling off a Thanksgiving dinner for twelve people requires. Although it has felt strange at times, I’ve enjoyed taking on the role my mother once had: that of an older, wiser woman who can simultaneously roast a turkey, offer dating and career advice, police the house for stray drinking glasses and toddler choking hazards, and look (mostly) fresh and relaxed while doing it.

This year, though, the thought of cleaning bathrooms and making cranberry sauce and washing pots and pans really feels like a lot of work, and I’m tired.

This past year has been tough for my husband and me. Since April, three close friends of ours have died from various forms of cancer, one after the other. The emotional burden this has caused has made it difficult for us to figure out how to mourn any of them. Part of me is still having a hard time believing that they’re gone.

As I stare at the November page on our kitchen calendar, I wonder whether most people take the time to consider what Thanksgiving is supposed to mean. Do they think about what they’re thankful for on the holiday, or ever?

Several studies have shown that expressing gratitude can help improve emotional and physical health. It can boost feelings of belonging, whether it’s in a family setting, with a group of friends, or at work. In other words, people who make it a point to think about the things they’re thankful for tend to be happier, healthier, and have better social lives. They’re also less affected by negative experiences.

I recently read about an exercise therapists use to help people who are experiencing depression get into the habit of expressing gratitude called “Three Good Things.” Basically, you get a blank journal or piece of paper and write down three things that you’re thankful for every day for a few weeks. Eventually, thinking about positive things in your life becomes a habit and your outlook becomes more optimistic.

I’m really not a big fan of doing stuff like this. I’m curmudgeonly and skeptical by nature (see my August 2022 Living Madly column), as well as a Gen Xer (meh) who grew up around a lot of New Age-y group speak and people playing impossibly cheerful folk songs on acoustic guitars. But I’ve starting doing it anyway. I mean, at this point, why not?

These are my first Three Good Things:

  1. I am grateful to be healthy and strong enough to hike up big mountains, and for all the physical and emotional benefits, and fun times, hiking has brought me, not to mention all the amazing things it’s made it possible for me to see and experience.
  2. I’m thankful for my family, especially my husband and daughter, who are both incredible human beings. I’m particularly proud of my daughter who started her first “real” job as an art teacher at an elementary school in Lowell this year.
  3. I’m thankful for my friends, many of whom have stood by me for years. They love me despite my faults, no matter how often we see each other.

I have to admit that thinking about the things I’m grateful for has made me feel happier. It’s given me a new appreciation for all the people, living and dead, who have done things to help me and make my life better, whether it was by taking in the mail while we were on vacation or by cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m still not that excited about making mashed potatoes for a dozen people, but I’ve come around to thinking of Thanksgiving as a day to spend time with people I love but don’t get to see very often. If this past year has taught me anything it’s that none of us are going to be here forever. If we don’t take an opportunity to see the people we care about when we can, we might not get another chance. The potatoes and the effort required to make them are secondary.

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