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Marina Gomberg: Sorry tryptophan, gratitude is my Thanksgiving drug of choice

Positivity is sometimes hard to come by but it can start a cycle of pleasure.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marina Gomberg.

I have complex feelings about Turkey Day.

First of all, it’s a celebration of America’s original immigrants (by said immigrants, so sort of a self-congratulatory thing), still observed annually hundreds of years later when we (shamefully) aren’t all that celebratory of most modern immigrants.

As if that hypocrisy wasn’t a bold enough roast, we add a little gluttony into the mix and then call this event that exemplified a woeful lack of genuine gratitude and humanity, “Thanksgiving.”

It’s a holiday with no grips. And turkey is mediocre (there, I said it).

So, anyway, that’s why I lean hard into its more redeeming parts: carbs and gratitude.

I feel like if I can rail against colonialism 364 days a year, maybe it’s all right to have some butt rolls and stuffing while we revel in that which is good on Thanksgiving.

Not to be all meta, but this year, I am especially thankful for gratitude. I think it’s been my saving grace. My elixir.

It’s sometimes hard to come by.

Even as someone pretty devoted to practicing optimism, I’ve noticed that having a strong cognizance of joy is a lot harder when I’m living in considerable discomfort. It’s not that I have any less for which to be grateful, I just have more displeasure to manage in addition.

I like that Thanksgiving encourages a readjustment to my mind’s ratios of good and bad.

My friend, mentor and former professor, Gerda Saunders, recently shared Yehuda Amichai’s poem “The Precision of Pain and the Blurriness of Joy” with me. It speaks to our refined ability to articulate discomfort with specificity and detail, and contrasts that with the perhaps bliss-induced nebulousness of our descriptions of joy.

This rang loudly true for me. During my health challenges over the last couple of years, I’ve definitely sharpened my vernacular of pain.

Crohn’s disease? Feels like my guts are being eroded by sloshing battery acid. Relapsing polychondritis can feel like my ear is being pressed onto a sizzling barbeque. And kidney stones are like being surprised by naturally birthing spiky fire babies (but with no cuddles and coos at the end).

Like, hit me up, WebMD, because I can probably help out with the descriptions of the symptoms for a couple of things if you need me.

But I don’t know that I have ever tried to make words wrangle the sensation of witnessing my son realize he just read a new word. Or the lightness I feel when I hear my wife, Elenor, walk through the door at the end of the day.

It’s interesting, though, because the act of appreciation starts a cycle of pleasure (I wonder if the opposite is true with acknowledging discomfort). In fact, there’s significant neuroscientific research on the physical and emotional impacts of gratitude, and it’s wild.

Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury wrote for positivepsychology.com that “when we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good.’ They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.”

The documented effects of gratitude can include reduction of pain, decreased stress, and even improved sleep quality, among other things (see, no turkey tryptophan required to sleep off the fullness).

Gratitude is like a drug. And I’m hooked.

So, I think this holiday I might see if I can clean the lenses through which I see my joy. Bring that amorphous blur into better focus and let that specificity trigger even more precise bliss.

Marina Gomberg is a professional communicator, a practicing optimist and a lover of love. She lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at mgomberg@sltrib.com.

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