Thanksgiving brings up conflicting emotions for many of us. While it’s certainly a pleasure to have time to commune with family and friends, reflect on what we’re thankful for, and prepare for the winter holidays, the celebration can feel bittersweet when we think about the holiday’s colonial roots.
For those of us who are not Native American, and who are invested in practicing anti-racism, Thanksgiving often raises the question of how we can celebrate this holiday in a more ethical way. We at Serenity Solutions are pondering that same question. This year, we are specifically thinking about how we can practice gratitude in the context of anti-racism.
The standard gratitude practice
Often when we think about practicing gratitude, we think of writing in a gratitude journal or sharing what we’re thankful for around the Thanksgiving table. We may express gratitude for things like family members, important possessions, employment, meaningful experiences, etc. At Serenity Solutions, we often recommend pausing to identify what you are grateful for, especially in moments when you feel overwhelmed by anxiety, anger, or depression. Clinically speaking, this makes sense; studies show that expressing gratitude in this way rewires the brain to think more positively, which helps to improve our mental health. And on a human level, it just feels good to focus our attention on the things that add meaning to our lives.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that the benefits of this practice are largely individual. When we think about how we can practice gratitude in service of anti-racism, we need to think on the collective level. So we encourage you to ask yourself: how could those same expressions of gratitude be translated into social change?
Gratitude in action
It might be helpful to think of gratitude in terms of action in addition to expression. For every good thing in your life that you give thanks for, think about how you can translate that gratitude into action.
For example, you may give thanks for having a roof over your head, acknowledging the many people in Philadelphia and beyond who are struggling with homelessness. If you were going to translate this gratitude into action, what would it look like?
You might take action by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, donating food or clothing to your local homeless shelter, or providing meals directly to homeless people in your area. You might offer to house a relative who’s experiencing housing insecurity, or contribute to crowdfunding efforts focused on providing stable housing. All of these are ways that you can practice gratitude in action, and elevate your gratitude practice from the individual level to the collective.
To take this practice a step further, we encourage you to think about how your gratitude practice can become a vehicle for anti-racism. This means asking yourself how your actions can be leveraged to promote racial equity.
In acknowledgment of the historical legacy of Thanksgiving, for example, you might focus your practice this year on gratitude for the original stewards of this land. This could look like donating to the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania or the Museum of Indian Culture; providing reparations directly to Indigenous people in your community; or educating your less-informed loved ones about the racist history of colonization in America.
This practice doesn’t have to be limited to just Thanksgiving. There are year-round opportunities to practice gratitude and anti-racism. Here are some other ideas:
- If you’re grateful for employment: when your company has job openings, share them with BIPOC in your network. If they decide to apply, let your employer know that you vouch for them.
- If you’re grateful for your health: donate money to your local Federally Qualified Health Center, which tends to serve people of color and other underserved populations.
- If you’re grateful for food on the table: share on social media that you’d like to sponsor a week’s worth of groceries for a BIPOC family experiencing food insecurity. Ask your friends to put you in touch with people who might be interested, and consider establishing a regular donation relationship with them.
We hope that these ideas get you thinking about how you can incorporate anti-racism into your gratitude practice this year and beyond. We at Serenity Solutions will be doing the same. If you struggle with feeling grateful and are aware of how this is impacting your emotional health, reach out to us at 267-277-3554 to learn how we can help you feel better and live a life that feels meaningful to you.
Wishing you a safe and happy holiday!