This Is Your Brain on Thanksgiving

blogxgrinchI am so easily upset these days. I know we’re heading toward the holidays, the last part of the year when I can think, “Mom was alive 12 months ago.” It’s getting cold and dark, and the election we’ve been through (is it over yet?) was months and months of no fun for anybody. I’m angry at the media for putting profit above democracy. I’m angry at fourteen jillion levels of government for the North Dakota Access Pipeline situation, which is a study in how to spend a lot of money and hurt a lot of people while not resolving a conflict.

I’m upset about blah, blah, blah.

blogxtoadThen comes Thanksgiving, and as I sit on my toadstool and glower in all directions, it’s easy to think that stuffing myself with pie and mashed ‘taters (made with ranch dressing) is turning a deaf ear to a suffering world. I should be Doing Something, making noise, writing letters, making a difference!

Fortunately for me, those (generally useless) gestures aren’t going anywhere, and it turns out that being grateful is one of the most helpful differences anybody can make. The grateful brain sleeps better, and thus tends to be less anxious. The grateful brain is less prone to depression.

blogxfierceAnd being grateful takes very little effort. At the end of every day, I write down five things I’m grateful for. Some days, the list is silly: I’m grateful I got to hold a kitten who’s done nothing but give me the skittery side-eye for two straight weeks.

Other days, my gratitude is larger: I’m grateful for my two sisters, who are keeping such loving watch over my 96-year-old dad. I’m grateful for my dad, the only guy who has stuck with me no matter what, and I mean no matter what. I’m grateful for my daughter, the brightest, dearest light ever to shine in a mother’s heart. dante-heather-rainbow-206x300

The more I focus on these aspects of my life, the more I’m likely to enjoy increased attention span, enthusiasm, and determination. I’m more likely to be optimistic, which for a natural-born Eeyore like me, is a very good thing. Oddly enough, people who start exercising the gratitude muscle are more likely to exercise the rest of themselves. This too is an area where I have room to grow.

And the best part about gratitude is that our brains like it. When we do the “thank you” dance, our brains treat us to a shot of dopamine, which is the brain’s way of saying, “Great move! Do that again!” Instead of a vicious cycle, gratitude can become a virtuous cycle, and one that’s as socially contagious as any other fundamental emotion. louisa_audio

I’m still worried about the big old, troubled world, and determined to pull my share of the load, but I’m also grateful for more than I can say, including every person who reads and responds to these blogs.

What are your grateful for? To one commenter, I’ll send an audiobook copy of Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight, which hits the shelves on November 29.


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21 comments on “This Is Your Brain on Thanksgiving

  1. I share your upset and frustration for all of the things you mention in your first paragraph – and more, but fortunately, I also have the ability to recognize the blessings in my life. It is even a part of my daily prayer life. I didn’t realize the dopamine factor, but it makes perfect sense.

    I have always thought it was a blessing in itself that I was able to recognize how well off I was because a lot of people don’t. And those people seem (to me) to be the most unhappy people I’ve ever known. They lack empathy for others because they are too focused on what they don’t have to care about anyone else.

    I could list a ton of things I have to be grateful for, but I’m not going to do that here. But I do want you to know how grateful I am for you and other authors who share your gifts for writing with us. Your books create a lovely place I can go to sometimes just for entertainment and sometimes for comfort. Thank you.

    • Mary,
      The odd thing is, anxiety is just as sticky and contagious as gratitude. I’ve wondered if the media has ever tried creating viewer loyalty with what’s good, positive, encouraging, and thoughtful, rather than what’s miserable and hyperbolic.

      Maybe that’s why romance novels are half of all paperbacks sold?

  2. I am grateful for all of the little things in life such as a living and loving family, wonderful friends, delightful books, sunny days, beautiful trees and flowers, kind people and delicious food. It is all too easy to focus on the negatives such as poor health, aging parents, unemployment, a harsh world, bitterness and discontent. Thank you for your books and your passion for a better world. You and your books are one of the things that I am most thankful for. I try to be thankful each and every day and my list can be a bit silly too. Yesterday I was thankful for the Beer Cheese and Bacon French Fries for Carl’s Jr. among other things. Thank you again and have a blessed week!

    • Oh, my. I might have to drop in on Carl, Jr.

      There are days when dark chocolate is on my list. I’m guessing that’s my primary source of caffeine, though I never seem to find the time to look up how much jitter juice is in good dark chocolate.

  3. I am very grateful that my 86 and 80 year old Dad and Mom are well, and more active and lively than people half their age. I’m grateful I am a stay-at-home Mom to my great 10 year old son, and I’m able to spend Tuesday’s with my parents playing Scrabble with my Mom. I’m grateful for my sister’s, my extended family, and so much more – the list could go on and on. But without meaning to sound like a suck up, I am truly grateful for all the great historical romance authors who write great stories to read during “me” time, especially when a new book is coming soon!

    • I’m grateful to them, too. When the economy tanked, I was too broke to buy new books. I spent the whole winter re-reading historical keepers, and for some reason, it was one of the calmest, happiest winters I’ve spent. I could barely afford groceries, but I was at peace.

      There isn’t much that a good duke can’t make a little more bearable.

  4. I’m grateful for the usual….wonderful husband, great sons, my Dad is doing fairly well and my brother (the *good one*) and I are closer than ever. I am grateful for a pretty good life….not perfect…but free from true want. That should be more than enough, given this big ol’ crazy world.

    The other things in my life are fleeting and while it’s nice to have things and jobs and friends, they are not as important as the above.

    Grace, my Mom died a little over two years ago. Her birthday (she would have been 89)was Thanksgiving Day. We celebrated her and gave thanks she was our mother and mother-in-law, wife and grandmother. We had birthday cake instead of pumpkin pie and laughed as we told stories. Dad had finally removed her toiletries from their bathroom (I mean, the day before as he got the Family Manse ready for our invasion)and asked me to go through her clothes and shoes (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…..because I also have LOTS of shoes!)this summer.

    I get why it’s tough to do the “Mom was still with us last year”. And I want to say it will get easier but…not yet.

    Hugs to you…and a shoulder.

    • When your parents are in their nineties, you don’t take any birthdays for granted. I wasn’t close to my mom, geographically or otherwise, but she was my mom, and I became ferociously protective of her as I matured. Now I’m mostly focused on Dad, and what it must be like to be without the person you were married to for 70 years, and knew even longer than that.

      He sleeps a lot, isn’t in obvious pain, and I hope he dreams of sweeter times.

  5. Thanksgiving makes you stop and think….what I am I grateful for?

    I am grateful that the turkey was moist, the potatoes tasted delicious and several of my guests asked for seconds. (Cooking a turkey makes me nervous!) I am most grateful that we had friends join our family this year– good conversation and lots of laughs!

    Am grateful for my new job and the opportunities in my future.

    I spent t the weekend at a dog shows and attended our club’s holiday dinner. We didn’t place either day but, I received several compliments on our performance. We honored a club member for her service to our club. It was nice that everyone came together to honor a peer.

    I am very grateful that my husband watched my other dogs so I could go away. I stopped and bought a dozen handout donuts and the lemon creams are just for my husband. And I am hoping Celeste forgives me for leaving her behind!

    I am grateful for this blog…it’s a great way to start your week….realizing all the things…little or small…that you are grateful for!

    • I’d love to attend a dog show with you, because it sounds a lot like horse shows. Most people are happy just to be there, with their dogs, with their show-buddies, and you all wish each other well. I saw the Best in Show award video this year, and the announcer was barely done with the word “greyhound” before one of the competitors was hugging the winner.

      The dogs set such good examples for us–and congratulations on the moist turkey!

  6. I’m thankful that I can be thankful for a loving, supportive spouse of 47 years. We are in relative good health, although aging issues sometimes throws us for a loop.

    Happy for the fact that all our children are now gainfully employed; grandchildren are in college or will be getting there after completing their final year in high school; and all are in good health.

    Thankful for teachers who encourage their pupils to read. Students lose so much when they don’t read regularly. Too many school districts no longer require reading lists.

    So glad 2016 is almost done. So much tension and discord due to election and social issues throughout the country.

    Just heard the music from the musical Hamilton-just makes one want to dance and keep moving. Hooray for reading and music!

  7. I am immensely grateful for my childrens’ innate forgiving nature, especially on the days when all I want is a rewind button. My friend likes to call it “love amnesia,” meaning that the kids are surrounded by so much love on a daily basis that they tend to forget the sporadic bad moments.

    I am grateful for my husband who fell in love with me when I was a mere 19 years old but still loves the vastly different person I’ve become (and the feeling is mutual!).

    I am grateful for the family members who love me despite our differences, even when I’m a prickly ball of difficult-to-love anxiety.

    Recently, I have become extremely grateful for brave women who have done hard things to make the world a better place for all women, because heaven knows we need all the help we can get!

  8. Before I list some of the things I’m grateful for, I’m going to comment on one of the things that really irritates me that you touched on, Grace ” I’m angry at the media for putting profit above democracy.” Me too. I’m also angry at people who don’t realize how much of a role profit for the media plays way too often.

    On to more cheerful things.

    I am always thankful for my husband: that he married me, that he works so hard to support the family, that he appreciates what I did for him and the kids by staying at home instead of focusing on a career – something I am also grateful for being able to do; that he cooks dinner most nights and grocery shops since I now have a job that keeps me away from home at odd hours because I did go back to work once the kids were in high school; and that we still love each other and rarely have reasons to argue but resolve our issues when we do.

    I am thankful for our children growing up to be intelligent and caring young adults who are able to discuss issues – often in both emotional and rational manners. I’m thankful that we will be able to pay for both of them to get their first college degrees without having to take out loans. I’m thankful for a job with a company owned by a family who, while definitely concerned by the bottom line, is also concerned about the health and well-being of their employees as well as remaining focused on honesty and integrity. Did I mention yet, I’m thankful that the cat who developed epilepsy is the one who allows us to easily give her medication multiple times a day?

    I could keep listing things for which I am thankful but I’ll hold off for now. 🙂

  9. I saw the new Harry Potter movie on Thanksgiving Day. I saw “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” on Saturday, that was cute. Today, I talked to my best friend. For the first time in forever both my best friend and I had a nice Thanksgiving. Perhaps miracles are possible after all.

  10. Oh my…right with you on so much anger. The pipeline. The general lack of compassion expressed in this political circus. Baffled by the very few friends who voted that way and assure everything will be better now. Grateful I’m safe, warm, fed, still have medical coverage/care, a tribe of close caring compassionate friends, and and and. Plus the discovery this holiday weekend of your audiobooks. Have cuddled with my cats to Sophie’s story, Maggie’s, and now Val’s. When the 2am insomnia strikes I can visit the Windhams…and hope.
    Congratulations on earning kitten cuddles!

  11. Sometimes gratitude is necessary when we finally recognize that the contradictions of our lives aren’t as powerful as the simple pleasures we can enjoy without guilt.

  12. I have been sitting here (when I’m supposed to be working) and thinking about what I’m grateful for. I am grateful that much of what is important to me personally still seems like it is within my control. (“Control” is a poor word choice, but I can’t think of a better one at present.) At least to some degree, I still feel like I can achieve some of my ends. When you are young everything seems possible, but as middle age and worse creeps on it’s easy to start seeing what you are never going to have. And the years left to me are far fewer than those past. Maybe I’ve just accommodated myself to some hard realities, but I am fairly content. (Have I just jinxed myself?) For a chronic dysthymic, it feels pretty good to be content. I don’t have everything I always thought I wanted, especially related to the male of the species, but I have enough.

    For the regular stuff, I am thankful that my mother is still with us, albeit in poor-ish health, that my siblings are doing okay, that my nieces and nephews are doing well, given their various gifts and capacities, that I was able to buy a new house this year, that I am gainfully employed, and that my lovely cats are doing well.

    Keep up the good work, Grace. I am plowing through and re-reading all of your books, sort of in order, and am enjoying them all over again.

  13. Didn’t think I had anything to add.

    Today my sister received a substantial sum of cash to help defray the costs of the trip she and her husband make to a small, rural town to bring in the PA system for an annual church event. “Oh,” she said. “But this year we’re both working.” In their mid-50s, they’re so far below the poverty level that minimum wage jobs make them feel rich.

    There was a husband and wife team who left every winter for some third world location where they went from place to place fixing well pumps. Sometimes they fixed the same pump every time they were in an area.

    I admire the Mexican restaurant that catered a funeral for a mentally ill man who sometimes sold his pottery nearby.

    I am thankful for people who see a need, and do something. I especially appreciate those who don’t see anything particularly noble about their work. It’s just who they are. (I also admire those who can take a random collection of parts and put together a sound system or a well pump, but those things are a mystery to me anyway.)

    And, really, most people are quietly going about making their spaces a better place for the rest of us In their own way. I need to recognize and appreciate that about them.

  14. At 60, I thought I was in pretty good health because I have never been seriously ill, but I started having stomach trouble during the summer and ended up 10 days in the hospital with some major surgery in September. So, I am VERY grateful for the wonderful gastroenterologist who saved me (because he wouldn’t let the ER send me home), the surgeon who fixed me, the wonderful nurses who took excellent care of me, and the terrific friends who took care of my cats when I was in the hospital and took care of my desk at work, too. I’m grateful to my son, who came to stay with me for a week when I got home and cleaned my house for me, too. It’s December now and I’m grateful to be myself again and the scar doesn’t even bother me.

  15. Hi my feelings about Christmas are joy and thankfulness to have my children and grandchildren with me all well and happy and
    all got great partners we have been very lucky and not to forget
    two gorgeous cats,my youngest two cats and one Labrador and last but not least my granddaughters Labrador pup
    Full house but great fun
    Happy Christmas everyone