How to be Thankful, Wherever You Stand

Financial stress seems to peak around the holidays, but we should try to put it aside and practice the very thing this time of year is really about — gratitude.

For many of us, the holidays don’t just mean good food, warm eggnog and new memories with family and friends – they also bring serious financial stress. If you are already strapped, the financial strains of December – travelling, feeding guests and buying gifts – are enough to incite panic.

And if money troubles are at the top of your mind this week, it can be difficult to suppress them to give thanks for everything you do have going for you.

My only advice today is that you try.

In case you’ve missed it, scientists have uncovered a significant connection between gratitude and happiness.

Want to be happier? Be grateful for what you have. (See studies by Emmons & McCullough, 2003 or Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006 or here for a brief explanation of how to practice gratitude.)

Of late, I have everything to be grateful for: Food on the table, a loving wife, two beautiful children, my own business and most importantly — all of our health.

But not very long ago I found it more difficult to give thanks. I was stressed about my debt and focused on the things I didn’t have, like time to myself because of the need to work two jobs.

During that time it was especially hard to think about what I had instead of what I didn’t, even though I still had everything that matters: My health and a loving family — full stop.

If, this Thanksgiving, you find yourself like I was throughout much of my 20s — strapped for both time and cash, perhaps confused by relationships or worried about your job (or finding one) — let me share an experience with you.

When I was 18 and 19, I spent some time as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT). Recently I joined a new local fire department here in Maine and am in the process of getting my license again as an EMT during which I rode on an ambulance for clinical experience.

Although the exciting part about being an EMT is racing to someone’s rescue when they call 911, much of the work is making more routine transfers between healthcare facilities: From a hospital to a nursing home, from the ER to a specialty hospital, or sometimes, from a hospital to hospice.

For the most part, the patients are very sick. Some don’t have much time left: sometimes weeks, sometimes so little that the EMT drives faster to ensure the family can be there for the patient’s final minutes.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned doing this work, is that in the midst of sickness and — when it comes — death, everything we worry about day and night hardly matters.

Patients confined to a hospital bed for months at a time might have a few plastic bags of possessions; they’re not thinking about the cars in their garages or the balance of their bank accounts. They care about the people at their side.

So this week and this entire holiday season: be thankful for what you do have. I hope it is your health and somebody to love. Everything else can wait.

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

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