We see them all around us this time of year, reminders to “be thankful.”
Do we really have anything to be thankful for?
We can certainly find a lot to not be thankful for. We are certainly not thankful for COVID-19. We are certainly not thankful for the ideological and political divisions we see all around us. We are certainly not thankful for higher grocery and gas prices.
So, what are we to be thankful for?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Thankfulness is not complicated. Its simply being grateful for what you do have rather than regret for what you don’t. To illustrate this further, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite psychologists, Erik Erikson and his “Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development.” These stages are interesting because the successful resolution of one stage leads to successful navigation of the remaining stages.
Within these stages of development, Erikson describes dilemmas we face at each stage. For instance, in the first developmental stage, birth to one year, we discover and comprehend the world as a trustful place or not so trustful. The first stage is trust vs. mistrust. Our interaction with our world at this early stage leaves us either content (needs are met in a loving caring way) or fearful (our needs are met sporadically or sometimes not at all). At this stage, we form healthy attachments or we don’t. The sad part is if we don’t have healthy attachments, we may develop what mental health professionals call reactive attachment disorder (RAD).
RAD makes it hard to have healthy attachments throughout our lives. But RAD is not inevitable nor does it have to be lifelong.
The following seven stages are fascinating, but for our purposes here I’d like to discuss the final stage, 65 to whenever life ends.
This stage Erikson called “ego integrity vs. despair.” In this eighth stage, we look back on the lives we have lived with a sense of success and thankfulness or a sense of regret. The major question we ask ourselves is, “did I live a meaningful life?” The sense of regret comes when we ruminate over mistakes or the feeling our life was wasted. However, there is no inevitability to each stage.
In other words, we have choices in many of the stages of life. We are never without a choice, whether we think we do or not. A very cool presentation of all eight of Erikson’s stages is called “Everybody Rides the Carousel. Check it out on YouTube. Erikson’s stages had a profound impact on my life and the choices I made, and am making, as an adult. I was determined to not live my life with regret, but to live life with a sense of peace and acceptance. Wisdom is the basic virtue of this stage.
If we opt for a thankfulness mindset, we appreciate life. When we appreciate life, our point of view changes. Although Erikson describes the eighth stage beginning at 65, I believe it happens at various times throughout adulthood. At any given moment, we can reflect on our lives and feel gratefulness or bitterness.
I choose to be grateful.
Growing up, we had Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house (my mother’s oldest sister). My aunt would have cinnamon rolls and mimosas for breakfast (us kids would just have orange juice, until we got older). Football was always on whether we were watching it or not. There was always plenty of food and laughter. When we sat down for the Thanksgiving meal, my aunt would insist we had to say one thing we were thankful for, and no repeats. The thankful expression had to be original. We knew we couldn’t eat until everyone said something. You know what? We always found something we were thankful for. I looked forward to going to my aunt’s house. She made it fun and festive. I also loved the time of year; autumn was always beautiful in Colorado. The air was cool and crisp. The leaves were a myriad of fall hues. The aspen trees were my favorite. They always had the most beautiful reds, oranges, yellows and golds.
As I look back on those years, I smile because I am truly grateful. Just like you, I didn’t accomplish all I wanted. I didn’t do all I wanted. And I certainly didn’t get all I wanted. But as I reflect on my life thus far, I choose to be thankful.
I still carry on the tradition of saying one thing I am thankful for at Thanksgiving meals.
What are you thankful for? No repeats!
Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at email@example.com.