Practicing Gratitude Amidst Overwhelm: An Annual Thanksgiving Reminder

Practicing Gratitude Amidst Overwhelm

My plate is full and so is my heart. Lots of things are happening simultaneously for me right now, which has inspired this post.

In 2018 I’d just come off of a 9 month campaign trail having run, albeit unsuccessfully, for State legislative office, my first run for political office. I had just been through the worst hurricane in 300 years and lost the roof on my house (among other things). I was at a critical mass point at my day job, with the universally stressful Holidays fast approaching, which is not when anyone wants upheaval and change happening at work. I had just joined a local board of directors to help combat violence against women. I was also contemplating major renovations in my personal life, and as always, my wonderful husband and my three children need me, which I must balance with my community volunteer commitments.

Then, in 2019, my parents nearly died in a terrible car crash in the midst of moving my family to a new city (thankfully, to be nearer to them). 

In 2020, well, we know what happened. 

Isn’t this more typical than not? We all suffer and go through hard times. Sound familiar?

Practicing Gratitude Amidst Overwhelm | Dr. Ginger Garner

Defining Overwhelm

What I am getting at is, we are all “busy” and constantly going through hardship of some type, but I don’t want to wear my “busy” or trauma as a badge of courage. 

I don’t want to be the kind of person who broadcasts how busy I am or how troubled my life is so I can receive either praise or pity. I love my life and my work. I love my family. I don’t want my family or friends to come to harm. But, life happens, and it’s often not fair. 

While I can’t save those I love from suffering, what I can do is change the way I think about it and process it. 

I try to choose my words and actions carefully so I don’t fall into the trap of “woe is me.”

It’s a bad place to be and Americans seem to especially excel at glorifying busy – and overworking, to the detriment of our own health AND our our productivity as a country. We are no more productive than any other country and yet we work more than any other country.

What I want from life is for my work and living to have purpose, to accomplish something bigger than myself, so my life’s mantra is simply this to do all the good I can as often as I can for as many people as I can (to borrow the words of John Wesley). 

Reframing Adversity

If I stop and take a moment of mindfulness, I have to be thankful for every single one of those challenges I just listed.

That is HARD. But I’ve lived long enough to know that I need adversity to make me stronger.

I can’t get stronger if I don’t lift the weight.

That is important enough for me to repeat to myself.

I can’t grow without growing pains.

We must face challenges, relationship hardships, & loss. It’s a part of life.

Whether it is lifting the weight of a barbell in a gym to make my body stronger, or lifting the weight of the social or psychological demands that my day job brings…Whether it is lifting the spiritual weight of running my household and nurturing my marriage and children to make sure we thrive as a family and as individuals….overcoming challenges is a part of life.

What I am describing is a kind of biopsychosocial way of practicing gratitude, of shedding the human part of me that wants to seek the easier, well traveled path, the unattainable dream that if I can empty my proverbial and literal inbox, then I can relax and take it easy.

I am learning, day by day, that with age does NOT come wisdom. On the contrary, wisdom comes with having tackled adversity and hardship head on.

And as I age, I’ll be the most blessed woman on earth if I can just hang on to this truth. We don’t get strong by avoiding the spiritual “gym” or the psychoemotional “cross fit”. We have to get in there and duke it out with our fears, struggles and demons and we must do it with grace, thanksgiving, and a truckload of grit.

Practicing Gratitude Amidst Overwhelm

When I reflect on what I am most thankful for this season, I have to say – it is adversity.

I know that sounds crazy. But – the things in life that test me – refine me, and help me to emerge stronger and be the more resilient, more compassionate, more thoughtful Self I want to be.

I am certainly thankful for all the things I would usually list, like my husband, my children, the roof over my head, the ability to work and earn a living, and the motivation to learn and create and be a spiritual creature.

 None of my successes made me who I am today.

It is the pain of loss and of unwelcome change, the shock of trauma and of having to starting over and rebuild something from scratch, the feelings of inadequacy and aloneness and self-doubt, that allow me to sit and stew, reflect and meditate, create and reimagine myself and my potential in new, better ways.

When I was a child I used to wonder “Why me?” when something bad would happen around me or to me, but I figured out swiftly that was the wrong question to ask. I survived a lot of trauma and witnessed a great deal of abuse growing up. Death and loss were a regular part of my childhood.

MindSet Shift – From Overwhelm to Growth

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I deliberately shifted my mindset from being a victim to a victor.

I was barely 18 years old, and I was working on my summers off from college as a missionary. That day as a teenager I made a promise to myself and God that instead of asking “Why me?” I would ask “How can this make me a better person?”

That shift toward a growth mindset was permanent, and the adversity that brought on the realization was the best thing to ever happen to me. That change in my thinking gave me a deep, abiding strength that I carry with me today, and it has profoundly shaped my choices in life. 

Ever since that day, I’ve had far less trouble out of adversity, and far more gifts and gratitude reaped from it. Like the poet Rumi asks of us in one of his most well known poems, “The Guest House”, adversity never seems to be a good friend, much less a teacher, but if we welcome it simply as that, we will truly bloom wherever we are planted.

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with aromas of all your favorite sights and scents, and with just a pinch of challenge to keep you humanly grateful. If you want to how I get through the Holiday Season, here is a past post on how to play Thanksgaming.  

Thanksgaming | Dr. Ginger Garner