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Let me be clear: I’m not a mental health professional.

I’m just a woman who’s been through tough times in my life — like all of us have, right? And I’d like to speak to you friend to friend, from my personal experience.

There are going to be a lot of well-meaning discussions this holiday season in the news and in our homes about gratitude. Thankfulness.

You might’ve even ended up sitting at a long table with your family last week with a bunch of relatives you manage to avoid every other time of the year, and someone had the “OMG, amazing idea” of everyone taking turns announcing what they’re thankful for. And of course, someone probably recorded it.

But here’s the thing.

Maybe you’re not grateful this week. Maybe you’re not thankful on Thanksgiving Day or Hanukkah.

Maybe you’re angry at something going on in your life, or at someone. Maybe you’re hurting. Maybe you’re processing a serious trauma. Maybe you’re struggling with a decision you need to make. Or maybe you just woke up in a tired, grouchy mood. You just know that wherever you are on the emotional spectrum, you’re nowhere near the gratitude end of it.

So you retreat and scroll through social media to try to mentally escape, but you’re bombarded with articles like, “Daily Gratitude Practice is Essential for Happiness” and “12 Things to Be Thankful For When Life is Hard” and “How Dare You Have Emotions When You Have a Roof Over Your Head and Clean Water?”

The world — from mom bloggers to yoga instructors to Instagram influencers — just loves taking time out in the holiday season to guilt all of us about feeling anything negative. (Especially not on Thanksgiving Day, you ungrateful swine.)

You know what this is? Dismissive, fake, toxic positivity.

Stand there and smile until you feel happy, dammit.

Are you upset that you lost your job? Go make a list of 10 things you’re grateful for. It’s so uplifting!

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Are you mourning someone on Thanksgiving? Don’t dwell on that! Give thanks for the food and friends and the people who are here today! Doesn’t that feel better?

You know what this does? It drops the boulder of responsibility on the shoulders of the person who is feeling bad. It’s saying, “It’s up to you to not have negative feelings about this terrible (or even just slightly bad) thing. Get it together and eat some stuffing. Thankfulness is a choice you make.”

I’m privileged enough to have food, water, an income, friends and a good relationship — I recognize that. But it doesn’t mean I’m never allowed to feel crappy about things in my life. I am allowed, and so are you.

You are allowed to feel bad.

You are allowed to not buy into the toxic positivity.

You are allowed to not force thankfulness to honor some gluttonous holiday because everyone says you have to.

In fact, you are allowed to skip any holiday you want to! You are also allowed to join in a holiday celebration if you want, and eat half a pie while quietly feeling unthankful.

It does not make you a bad human. It makes you a person who prioritizes acknowledging and owning your emotions, and it makes you a person who refuses to take on group holiday pressure when it’s detrimental to your well-being.

Here’s the way I see it: If a gratitude practice fulfills you, if it feels good and nurturing, do it! But if it doesn’t, ignore it. If someone asks you on Christmas what you’re grateful for, launch into an exuberant discussion about your favorite TV show. They’ll get bored in 30 seconds and leave you alone.

Unless they love the same show! Then you can talk about it happily for an hour. And you can be thankful for that.

One more thing: If none of the above is about you — if you’re that person who’s super-duper excited about giving thanks, and you’re planning gratitude games and thankfulness announcements at dinner with everyone — I encourage you to take a step back. Consider giving your guests the space to be thankful for their emotional privacy. The day will still be fun, and your compassion will go further than gratitude.

Jennifer Safrey is a novelist and editor. Learn more about her writing at jensafrey.com.


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