We are a mixed family. My kids like to say they are mongrels. Not a very flattering way of describing themselves but true perhaps. We are a NZ/US family so we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving. Ours is a hybrid version of the American holiday. We never celebrate it on a Thursday, this year it will include kinderpunsch and pavlova but we invariably sit around the table and eat Southern (US) food (supplies permitting). We do however, always spend the day focused on gratitude. 

You would think gratitude would be a straightforward concept but turns out it can be quite complicated in the middle of a pandemic. The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratus, meaning pleasing or thankful. Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness towards the world and the people in it. People who feel gratitude are thankful for what they have. As an expat in the days of Covid it is a little hard to fully commit to that feeling.

Thanksgiving is a time to show gratitude

The pandemic has limited almost everyone’s lives. For expats this is often more profoundly felt because no matter what, many of us can’t get back to our families regardless of the circumstances. Being able to get home if we need to is something most expats have taken for granted. Now this is not the case and it does weird things to our brains. 

Intellectually it can be difficult to grapple with. We don’t necessarily want to go home, even when something unforeseen or tragic happens, but we want that option. In normal times my family would be contemplating taking a last minute trip back to the US for Christmas due to family circumstances. Not this year though, it is not even an option. We don’t like not having options. 

The mundane conditions of the pandemic are not fertile ground for gratitude to flourish. It makes us feel uneasy. Christmas travel is off the books. We have “Thanksgiving” friends who we cannot invite over this year because of restrictions. Here is Germany the Christmas markets, the impromptu gluhwein sessions, the special food stands in the markets, cancelled! We can’t even sing. More schools are going to distance learning, and others ready to start at any time. Regulations are increasing, restaurants are closing. At a time when we want to celebrate gratitude, everything seems pretty dire.

We need to work hard to find the positives. When we give thanks and show gratitude we give our brains a little boost of joy. We make things we take for granted, or have not focused on for a while, visible and this trains our brains to see good, even in the worst of times. At a minimum this gives us a sense of contentment and at best it uplifts us. 

How to find gratitude

I challenge all of you, even if you are not American, to try and find something to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. It will help make you feel resilient, more satisfied with life and hopefully a little less isolated. If you are really struggling to find gratitude take a look at Thnx4. It is an online, shareable gratitude journal that helps you say thanks for the good in your life. They have 10 and 21 day challenges. 

If you have children try making a joy jar. You can make it for them or with them. Make a list of all the things your children find joy in and cut it up and put them all in a jar. Get them to pull out one piece of paper a day to give them joy and allow them to show gratitude. A bit like an advent calendar but for joy not chocolate. You can also ask your children to write a note of thanks to give to someone at school, like a cafeteria worker, or cleaner, or security. 

Our Thanksgiving in strictly a family affair this year

It is amazing how much a little gratitude will help give you a feeling of fulfillment even in these crazy, rollercoaster times. If you celebrate Thanksgiving I hope you are able to find some joy no matter where you are or how you are celebrating. And don’t forget that good times are coming; we just have to be patient.

Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat (married to an American expat) who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.

Photos by Apple Snaps Photography – find her on IG @applesnapsphotography