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Thankfulness is hard.
No, it really is. Our brains are hardwired with a “negativity bias.”
2020 has pushed it into overload.
The awful campaign season that just finished is Exhibit A. Tens of millions of dollars were spent on negativity, filling our airwaves, our ethernet, and our mailboxes with vitriol. Political consultants preyed on our biological predilections to try and push their preferred candidate.
Certainly the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped. There has been a massive spike in jaw muscle pain as people grind their teeth from stress. Nearly 30 percent of Americans faced depression and anxiety in the early part of the year as the virus spread. And those without jobs are facing mental health trauma.
Some of the fear surrounding the virus is overdone. It is real. It is something we should take seriously. It requires prudence and demands responsible behavior. But it is far from a death sentence. The vast, vast majority of those who contract it will recover.
Yet our “negativity bias” begets substantial fear. And it makes it hard to be thankful.
But as we approach Thanksgiving 2020, there is still a lot of good we should stop and recognize.
Two pharmaceutical companies — Moderna and Pfizer — have apparently developed vaccines for the coronavirus with more than 90 percent efficacy. We are less than a year into the pandemic; this work was done with remarkable speed.
Our election — despite incredibly heated rhetoric — occurred without major election day hiccups. No violence of consequence was reported. There is no evidence that foreign actors — Russia, China, Iran, North Korea — interfered with the process. Millions upon millions of Americans made their voices heard.
The national unemployment rate has dropped precipitously, proving that our economy is robust, even if it needs further support.
There are plenty of other good news stories out there. Find them. Share them.
This year’s Thanksgiving celebration is going to look different for all of us. Gov. Janet Mills has encouraged everyone to stay apart, rather than come together. This is understandable, and many Mainers will celebrate in their own, smaller way.
However, those earliest Thanksgivings centuries ago saw European settlers far from their ancestral home. Communications back to loved ones in England and elsewhere took months. We can Zoom around the world in a manner of seconds to wish our grandparents good night. Just because.
The pandemic has helped many people refocus on the simple pleasures available to all of us. Spending time outside through a Maine summer. Tending a garden, or walking in the woods.
Campers, kayaks, and other outdoor gear sold through stocks all year long. With technology taking a primary role in our lives, we are finding ways to break free from it. Which is healthy, because social media plays strongly into our “negativity bias.”
As we come into the holiday season, there is going to be a lot of reason to be negative. Maybe your family tradition gets changed or cancelled this year. Could be that you need to get a COVID test after taking a trip out of state. There will probably be unending stress as schools pivot to remote learning in the face of rising case counts.
This winter is not going to be easy. Thankfulness is going to be harder than ever.
But there is still a lot of good in the world. So this Thanksgiving, take some time to find it.
It will be a great start towards putting 2020 behind us.
Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.