Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and if you're like me, you may be wondering how on earth you're going to celebrate this year. This year many traditions will be put on hold. Many people will be spending the holiday away from family and friends due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions or safety concerns. But htat doesn't mean you need to sit at your table sulking with a bag of Brach's Candy Corn. 

This Thanksgiving is an opportunity to think outside the box. It may inspire you to throw out your traditional playbook and opt for an entirely new tradition (maybe that's something you've secretly wanted to do for years anyway). Or you may be seeking just the opposite, longing to replicate some semblance of your family's old Thanksgiving traditions because you find them comforting in these uncertain times. Perhaps you're looking for thoughtful ways to show your family, friends, or community that you care even if you can't do it in person. It seems to me that especiallly in times like these, we need to claim and share gratitude.

The COVID-19 pandemic has people feeling stressed and frightened. That's why it's perhaps more important than ever to focus on gratitude - the practice of noticing and being thankful for what is valuable and meaningful to you. It's good for your mental and physical health, it can help you relax and its effects can help you stay well through the coronavirus pandemic and beyon. "Focusing on silver linings," "counting your blessings," "stopping to smell the roses" -- these aren't just cliches; they're activities that research shows may enhance your quality of life. The health benefits of practicing gratitude are wide-ranging -- and maybe even a bit surprising. The practice of gratitude can improve immune function, according to the American Heart Association. This is especially important during the COVID-19 crisis, since people with compromised immune systems face a high risk of becoming severely ill from coronavirus. Studies have shown that people who practice gratitude show a significantly lower risk for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and substance dependence and abuse, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness. Focusing on positive emotions can help improve your ability to cope with stress. Grateful people have been shown to exercise more and eat healthier diets.

Practicing gratitude can be easy, rewarding, and fun. You can start small by taking a few moments to notice things that are going well in your life. To help make this a regular habit, set aside a short time each day to intentionally practice gratitude. Jot down your joys. Make a habit of writing down the things you're grateful for. Keep track of the little things. It doesn't have to be a long list, but if you regularly challenge yourself to identify and name your gratitude, you may begin to notice improvement in your emotional well-being. Write thank-you letters expressing your gratitude for what others have contributed to your life. Take time in your prayers to thank God for innumberable blessings and for salvation through Jesus.

And if you find yourself saying that you have nothing to be grateful for, try thinking about all the little things you have. You may find that you're taking for granted certain abilities or privileges you have that others don't. It might be hard to recognize positive moments while they're happening, but if you practice enough, you will get the hang of it. When you find yourself enjoying the moment -- a sound, a memory, a conversation -- try to pause of a bit and bask in the experience.

Let your gratitude spread joy. This Thanksgiving is especially poignant due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people have lost loved ones or are experiencing financial hardships. Consider volunteering your time or donating money to an organization or charity that's meaningful to you in lieu of having a big feast. You can also donate your time by checking in on elderly neighbors and offering to run their errands. The more selfless you are, the more you may get out of it. Research shows that you may feel happier and more satisfied with life when you volunteer.

Instead of focusing on the negativity of this pandemic, perhaps we all need to make the effort to be grateful for the blessings we do have. Maybe this is what Paul meant when he said, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (Col. 3:18).

~ Dr. Bob