Even in 2020, we can find reasons to be grateful

James Bass Contributing columnist

The very basis of Thanksgiving is, literally, the giving of thanks.

However, many will find it challenging this year to find much to be thankful for. After all, it has been a year marked by chaos, disruption, controversy and uncertainty. Some might even say it has been one of the worst years in decades, but even now you can still find much to be grateful for if you really take the time.

I am practicing mindful gratitude this month. I’ve called friends to tell them I’m thinking about them. I’ve hugged my children a little longer, and I’ve taken stock of all the good things in my life. What I’ve found is that people tend to focus more on the good things in their life when someone simply (and genuinely) tells them they are important and that their existence makes a difference.

If you are reading this then, to some extent, you have survived the worst of 2020. It’s hard to believe that no one has been affected by the myriad doom and gloom brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s also good to know that this year some persevered and became stronger because of it. My favorite professor used to say “everything depends on the lens through which you view it.” If letting go of complacency, embracing innovation, and reimagining how we do things is good, then we can be grateful for that side effect of pandemic life.

The pandemic became the backdrop for this year, shaping and affecting virtually every part of our existence. But it has also mobilized us to be creative and innovative in many aspects of our lives; it hasn’t been bad enough to proverbially throw out the baby with the bathwater. The other lens through which we have observed this year is through social media. Throughout the quarantine, many Americans stayed indoors glued to social media and news outlets reporting about the coronavirus pandemic. During that time, I learned the term “doomscrolling,” which refers to our tendency to scroll through bad news even when it is discouraging. Many of us got our daily “news” from our social media feeds, where things probably look worse than they are, and where opinions are both polarized and overrated.

Social media tends to amplify the bad in our world and detract us from what is good. You don’t have to work in a newsroom to realize that more emphasis is given to bad news than to good news. We also tend to remember bad news more than we do good, and this has a profound effect on our worldview perspectives. We tend to see things being far worse than they are. In fact, one could argue that the media used that to our disadvantage.

A few months ago, Netflix released a documentary called “Social Dilemma” that painted a bleak picture of our dependence on social media for acceptance and connection. Many were ready to unplug right away and reconnect to the world without their digital devices. But I think you had to wait until the end to get to what I thought was the most important message: turn off your notifications. And for all of its perceived ills, social media isn’t all bad.

My point is that we often let external stimuli dictate our happiness for us — like social media, for example. It is really up to us to choose to be happy and pursue those avenues that offer promise. One of my daughters recently commented to me that “the 80s seemed like a much simpler time.” My argument is that her observation is a matter of perspective, and honestly, since my wife and I lived in those times and my daughter didn’t, we have better sense of truth. I’ll quote one of my favorite singers, Billy Joel, who said “the good ol’ days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

We have more opportunity now than any time in history. People live longer and technology, ironically, has improved our lives dramatically. I don’t think anyone can disagree that the COVID pandemic would have been much worse in the 80s when we didn’t have the technology and ability that we have now. And in this case, we would do well to be grateful that we had the technology to stay in touch, get real-time news, and remain connected. Everything is a matter of perspective.

I stumbled upon an article from January 2020 by author Brian Robinson, published in Forbes, called “10 Tips To Make 2020 Your Best Year Ever,” and while Brian’s crystal ball didn’t tell him what a train wreck 2020 would be, his advice, nonetheless, was spot on because it was grounded in optimism.

“Focus on the upside of a downside situation,” was one thing he suggested. Rarely do we have a choice when it comes to circumstances, but we do have the ability to look for the best in any situation. And that brings me back to my point about being grateful. Just take a moment and really think about the good things in your life. You are sure to find something to be thankful for. Even this year.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and remember that there’s nothing we can do about the past, the future is yet to reveal itself, and all we have is the present. Be grateful for the people in your life and the things you have. Tomorrow will take care of itself, and having given gratitude for what you have, you’ll find a sense of happiness despite what might seem to be a world falling down around you.

James Bass is the executive director of the Givens Performing Arts Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He can be reached at [email protected]