This month a miracle occurred. Two of my psychotherapy clients fell in love. (Not with each other.)
Falling in love is always a miracle. But this is different. Both of my clients are in their late 30’s. Neither of them have ever had a boyfriend that they like, have great sex with, and is nice.
One is bringing a boyfriend home for Thanksgiving for the first time in his life.
Now that is something to be thankful for.
There are many clichés about therapists that I find distressing. My least favorite are the assumptions that we do this for the money, we get tired of listening to the same crap over and over, and we don’t care about the people we work with.
First of all, if money was my main interest, I’d be Glenn Beck instead of Glenn Berger. (Thank goodness we didn’t go to the same school – we would have sat next to each other! Now that’s something to be thankful for.)
Second, people don’t come to therapy to say the same crap over and over. I get to be with people when they are at their realest. There is nothing more nurturing than being with people when they are authentic. As compared to the too-large percentage of our population who hate their work, I end every day feeling invigorated rather than enervated.
I love my work. That is something to be thankful for.
Third, I care about all my clients. If I don’t care about someone, I shouldn’t work with them.
My clients are part of my family. They are like my children. When one, no, when two of my clients have HUGE breakthroughs and fall in love with someone who is good for them for the FIRST TIME IN THEIR LIFE I experience what my Jewish ancestors would have called naches.
What is naches? It’s the feeling a parent has at the end of a long road of hard work, sacrifice, and suffering when their child makes good. It’s a quality of satisfaction and joy that can only come when you’ve been waiting for it for too long.
That is something to be thankful for.
I had to say all that, but that’s not the point of this essay. Thanksgiving is a time when we are all meant to pause and be grateful. This implies that we are not grateful the rest of the year, and that it takes an extra-special effort, and lots of tryptophan from the turkey, to be thankful. I would concur. It’s hard to be thankful. It’s a problem I see in my practice all the time. It is one of the signs of what I call “having a lost heart.”
So the question I pose here is: how do you be thankful?
I’m going to use my two in-love clients as examples to answer this question.
For a long time, these two feared the very thing that is giving them so much happiness now. They both believed that being close to someone would be a trap. Then they realized that being alone was far worse.
I put it to them like this: you are either going to be annoyed or depressed. Let’s face it, people are annoying. They don’t pick up after themselves, they have bodily fluids and smells, they get in the way. But after spending enough time alone, you end up feeling, well, lonely, and a human being’s foibles don’t seem so bad.
Loneliness and disappointment help us appreciate what is really important. My clients came to recognize the value of someone who wants to spend time with you, who is attentive to you, who shows up when they say they will, who texts you the morning after, and who likes you. In other words, the best thing in the world is having someone in your life who is a trustworthy, honest, good person.
Some of us think that the only thing that will excite us — that we will be thankful for — is to be with someone who is impressive, dangerous, and unavailable: a photojournalist in war-torn countries, the person who started the snarkiest web-site, your Argentinian personal trainer. But as it turns out, it’s pretty damn exciting when someone knows how to give you pleasure, and keeps almond milk in their fridge because that’s the kind you like.
Sometimes it takes a lot of suffering to recognize that the things to be thankful for are very simple.
So here’s how to be thankful, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day.
Look for all the ways that you are being given love, wherever it comes from, no matter how big or how small. Then close your eyes, take a deep breath, and say, “Thank you.”
To all of you who are reading this, I’m closing my eyes. I’m taking a deep, appreciative breath.