When thinking of what to be thankful for, dig a little deeper

There are times when expressing gratitude flows out of me like a waterfall, and other times when I feel squeezed out of the ability to be grateful like a dried-up sponge.

Unfortunately, the ability to be grateful can be conditional, and 2020 has pushed us all to our limits.

Growing up as a Christian we are taught to show gratitude to God in all things at all times, so expressing gratitude, in general, is rather easy for me. I remember years ago when Oprah Winfrey mentioned on an episode of her show about doing a gratitude journal and writing in it every day things she was grateful for, and journals flew off the shelves as people around the country began penning their own gratitude journals.

As I have gotten older, have had more life experiences and matured, the things for which I am grateful have gone from “I’m grateful I passed my boards” to “I am grateful I have a job with health insurance.”

But 2020 pushed me, and I would venture to say all of us, deeper. I can remember sitting at my desk when my boss let us know that we would be closing one of our locations and seeing only dental emergencies at our other clinic. In a panic I started mentally going through my to-do list, and suddenly it came to me: I had done everything I set out to do.

My main goal in life was to become a dentist; I have achieved that goal, therefore, everything else, as far as my career is concerned, is a bonus. But to be able to consider everything else as a bonus, one has to ask: what do you need to be happy? Are you hard to please? Under what conditions are you able to express gratitude? Because really, for most of us, the sheer fact that we made it to be practicing dentists should be enough that we should be forever grateful.

As of 2019 there are 200,419 dentists in the United States – out of a population of 328.2 million people. We are in a profession that is the elite of the elite. Is your practice not doing as well as you thought it would this year? Are you in the life changing position of having to close your office or did you get laid off as an associate? You are still a licensed dentist. We are in a profession that will always be needed – and not just here – everywhere in the world, what we are able to do is irreplaceable.

This year took me to a new level of being able to take stock of that which I am grateful for. This year I am grateful for my fully functioning body. I am grateful for a job with health insurance, a 401K plan, and a salary that I can live on with some excess to buy frivolous things. I am forever grateful for my parents and extended family. I am grateful for my friends because our relationships bring me joy in a time when so many times there is nothing for us to do but to just sit and be together. I am grateful for being in a position that I can have hobbies and being in a position that I can give back. I am grateful to be living in a time when there is iMessaging, email, social media, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, and all manner of ways to stay connected. I am grateful to live in a country that offers assistant to people in need. There are so many places in the world where this is out of the realm of comprehension for people that the government would send them money when they are in need.

I am grateful that I have access to whatever type of food I want to eat, whenever I want it: everything from Indian food to macarons, I can get it whenever I want. I am grateful for access to every version of clean water from tap to still to sparkling to alkaline. I am grateful for the option to care about the environment. I am grateful for breath. There is a verse in the Bible that says “everything that have breath praise the Lord.” When we started having to wear a mask every single day for hours a day, when I would walk out of work and take the mask off, that first breath of spring air filling my lungs brought new meaning to that verse. I can breathe deeply and easily and live in a country where the air is clean and we are encouraged to go outside.

I challenge you to dig deeper. Take everything you are already grateful for and break it down to its foundation and be grateful for that. Write it all down. Maybe some days you will look forward to writing things down, and other days you won’t have the mental energy to count it all up, but make that list. We have so much excess in this country that we don’t even realize is excess.

When COVID-19 took things away, I think many people felt like they were losing out when really what we had before was extra. And if you are still at a loss for where to start, when you walk out of the grocery store, or work, or wherever you were and had that mask on, when you remove it and take that first deep breath of fresh air, just be grateful for that because it’s not guaranteed.

Dr. Elizabeth Simpson is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in 2010. Liz is a general dentist working full time for two Federally Qualified Health Centers in Anderson and Elwood, Indiana. She is a member of the American Dental Association Institute for Diversity in Leadership program and has started a toothbrushing program at an elementary school in Indianapolis. When she’s not working she enjoys reading, going to the movies, traveling and spending time with her family and friends.

4 comments

  • Dr. Simpson, your column is an inspiration! I thank you for your good thoughts and your eloquence.
    I have suffered from low self-esteem all of my life. I fight this all of the time.
    Your view that we are dentists, we are the elite of the elite is great. I have to tell myself that all of the time.
    Anyway, thanks for the inspiration! You are great.
    Happy Thanksgiving.

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