Is an attitude of gratitude always possible?

Guest column by Linda Newell
Posted 11/27/18

Although Thanksgiving is over, can we still talk about gratefulness for about 500 words? Maybe your Thanksgiving was wonderful with a peaceful, loving, full meal. Or maybe you had to eat it at a …

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Is an attitude of gratitude always possible?

Posted

Although Thanksgiving is over, can we still talk about gratefulness for about 500 words?

Maybe your Thanksgiving was wonderful with a peaceful, loving, full meal. Or maybe you had to eat it at a shelter or in a toxic family environment. If you are progressive politically, you probably loved Election Night and have been in a great mood lately. Or if conservative, you might still feel a bit of despair. As a believer that the end of times is near, you might feel at peace with the fires, climate change disasters, and predictions of our natural world declining. Or as an environmentalist or millennial, you might feel frustrated or angry that your federal government doesn’t seem to care.

By now, you get the picture. Some of us have many reasons to be in a state of gratitude all year long. Those of us with a roof over our head, groceries in the fridge, loving relationships, stable well-paying wage, and a robust savings account. Others perhaps not so much.

In my current seminary studies in social justice and ethics, I have been surprised and confirmed about the multiple layers of both fortune and suffering that various peoples have experienced throughout history. And in my chaplaincy training, I have come across that present today with my patients and staffs. Over time, those events, whether joyous adventures or suffering ordeals, add up and start to accumulate in our body or psyche. Science tells us that collectively as communities of people encounter a disaster or social harm, that can also embed within us, sometimes even into our DNA.

Some research shows that ancestrally it takes five generations for that trauma to be extricated from our bodies.

Imagine a person, for example, who was separated from his parents in an Indian Boarding School or whose great-grandmother was abused by her slave master. And if new stresses or traumatic incidents are occurring, those are added to the “historical generational trauma” that keeps building and living within us.

Where is this going? Well, it’s that time of year when some of us are in a really good mood and excited for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays acknowledged by our government— those who have “all the trimmings and trappings” of prosperity and are a part of the dominant culture or religion. To them, a feeling of gratefulness can come naturally. However, for those of us currently or continuing to live in poverty, are non-Christian, or non-white, there can be historical and current trauma within ourselves that sometimes we just can’t “shake off.” Still for others, we might have physical or emotional pain that prevents us from getting into the appreciation mood.

So when we wonder why someone “just can’t be grateful,” perhaps we can think about what else might be happening with them on the inside, historically and today. Conceivably, if we all did that and showed more compassion with each other, we might just have a whole community of abundant gratitude.

Today, with an attitude of gratitude …

Formerly a Colorado state senator, now a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a writer, speaker, filmmaker, and consultant. She may be reached at Senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.

Linda Newell

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