This Thanksgiving, Notice the Good

Many of us, who have dedicated our lives to non-profit work and social entrepreneurship, have spent the past year in perpetual state of frustration. Our country’s deeply divisive political climate and the innumerable losses progressives have suffered can make the practice of gratitude during Thanksgiving a bit difficult.

What is there to be grateful for? Reduction of essential services is squeezing the poor, climate change is being ignored, increase in hateful incitement against minorities is causing anxiety, healthcare coverage is in disarray, and sexual impropriety by men in power seems ubiquitous. The atmosphere of uncertainty makes it especially hard for social entrepreneurs to take risks and forces non-profits to focus more on direct service projects, setting aside innovative programming.

Being caught up in the current news cycle is like being beat up by a relenting swell of ocean waves; just as you get your grounding after being hit by one wave of disturbing news, another one comes smacking you in the face. Perhaps the only way to get any clarity and perspective is to get out of the ocean. Thanksgiving is an opportunity, built into our busy calendars, for an intentional break we all need to be present in time, outside of time. We don’t have to slow down for long; just long enough to contemplate those things that are worth appreciating.

In the Mussar tradition, a teaching on Jewish ethical living, the practice of gratitude is called hakarat hatov. The term literally means, “noticing the good.” It is true that there are many things for which we cannot be grateful.  However in every moment, we can notice the good. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here is my list of things I am grateful for.

  • I am grateful that I live in a country where my disagreement with the way the government is operating is not a punishable offense. Having grown up in the Former Soviet Union, I do not take this privilege for granted.
  • I am grateful to have met countless people who take a stand and heed their calling to make the world a better place. Whenever I get despondent or my efforts feel futile, I turn to a network of mentors who remind me that any service work is a long-term project and there are few immediate gratifications.
  • I am grateful to be living in Atlanta, a racially and culturally mixed tapestry of life. My encounters with people with unique cultural narratives make me stretch and grow. I am learning so much about the importance of building bridges with local communities, because ultimately we should all be helping to take care of each other.
  • I am grateful for the blessing of living in a Jewish community that does not take its Judaism for granted. The Jews of the South have grown up in communities with far fewer Jews than those in major coastal cities. Their joyful participation in Jewish life is refreshing and their generosity of spirit translates into an active culture of volunteerism and grassroots philanthropy.
  • I am grateful that my family comes together for Thanksgiving and Shabbat the day after. After all, the Hebrew word for Jews, Yehudim, can be translated into a Grateful People. As immigrants, my parents and I had never celebrated Thanksgiving until my husband’s family included us for our first taste of the American tradition exactly twenty years ago. We always stay together through Shabbat, which allows us to celebrate our hyphenated identity of being Jewish-American.    

This Thanksgiving weekend, take time outside of time, to notice the good in your life. What are you grateful for? To what or to whom do you attribute the blessings in your life? What are the silver linings of your difficulties? In what ways are you fulfilling your calling? Who are your mentors and benefactors who make your work possible?

Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom.

Marita Anderson is a chaplain, freelance writer, educator, and parent.
She currently lives in Atlanta.