A gratitude list for this Thanksgiving that includes responsibilities and an acknowledgement of the holiday's complexity.

Gratitude and Thanksgiving—it’s complicated

Let’s face it—gratitude and Thanksgiving come with some complicated baggage. Our most treasured holiday in the US, the one where we give thanks for all that we have, is inextricably linked with one of our greatest sins.

We are grateful, I am grateful, to live on stolen land. Indeed, instead of celebrating Thanksgiving, the Mashpee Wampanoag mark a Day of Mourning. Not acknowledging that our thankfulness is marked by grief and suffering that continues to this day is to not acknowledge the whole truth about ourselves if we are white. One branch of my family tree arrived on the shores of Massachusetts in the 1620s, and I benefit from their decision to come here.

With gratitude comes responsibility

Likewise, expressing gratitude, which I do on a daily basis and encourage you to do the same, also carries complexity. I am grateful for what I have in my life, incredibly so. And yet, I must also acknowledge that much of it I did not earn, and much of what I have in abundance, others do not have at all. With gifts comes responsibility.

I am grateful to have Thanksgiving with my family

I’m celebrating Thanksgiving this year, with joy. Last year, my mom was recovering from emergency surgery, my dad was on the mend from hip replacement, and Covid prevented my sister and her children from being able to safely visit. I spent the only Thanksgiving of my life alone, and while I made a memorable experience for myself, I’m grateful to spend this Thanksgiving with my loved ones.

And I acknowledge that Thanksgiving is complicated

I am also acknowledging that Thanksgiving is not an uncomplicated holiday. I don’t know exactly what to do about those two contradictory statements, but I am not sweeping them away.

For this post, I’d planned on sharing a gratitude list to mark Thanksgiving. I’m still going to do that, but I’m including a corollary where I have a responsibility to help alleviate suffering.

My Gratitude List this Thanksgiving

Life on this tiny blue dot

I am grateful to be alive, in this moment, on this beautiful planet. When I think of all of the improbable events that led to me, it leaves me breathless. I am unbelievably lucky to get to live for a few moments. Each and every day I have, even the shitty ones, is a miracle, and I am so very grateful for the time that I have.

I have a responsibility to help preserve life. This means working to prevent and address violence in all of its forms and ensuring that my actions do not harm others. I have a responsibility to care for the Earth and to make my government address climate change to help preserve it.

My family and friends

I am so very, very grateful to have family and friends who love and support me. And I get to love and support them.

For whatever else Covid brough, the months I spent with my parents last year deepened our relationship, and I am grateful to know them better. I’ve never laughed so hard as I do with my sister, and she amazes me with her boundless creativity and depth of feeling. I get to be Auntie Sara to three incredible children whose uniqueness brightens my life. I am so grateful that they love spending time with me, even as they grow up. Perfect family relationships do not exist, but I am grateful for the real one that I have.

My friends have wicked senses of humor, zest for life and curious minds. They are thoughtful and kind and support me when I need it and let me in to support them when they need it. Friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts, and I am truly grateful for my chosen family.

Not everyone has family or good relationships with their family of origin. I have a responsibility to acknowledge this, to hold space, and to show compassion. Likewise, we can lose friends or find it hard to love ourselves enough to be able to make friends. I have a responsibility to show compassion to those who struggle and to address the parts of me that find it hard to love them.


My dog Ollie brings me joy, and I am so very grateful to have him in my life. I am grateful to those who entrusted me with his life. Ollie is my constant companion, and his quirky ways delight me, and his love for me has been a lifeline in these isolating times. I love him so very much.

Ollie is a rescue dog, and many others do not find their humans. I have a responsibility to help others to find their furever homes, encouraging those in my life to adopt, not shop. And also a responsibility where possible to help prevent the need for so many animals to need homes.

Resources for today

I am grateful to have everything I need to live today. I have food and water, clothing, and shelter. I have a peaceful home. I have enough money to not have to spend all of my time worrying that I will continue to have these things.

Here’s where a lot of responsibility comes into play. I have much to be grateful for, and where I have the ability to give, I must do so. I must also work to address the conditions that deprive people of basic resources to live in peace.

Gratitude and Thanksgiving—and accepting responsibility

I have so very much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. And much responsibility. I am grateful to you for reading.

What are you grateful for, and what do you feel responsible for? Please let us know in the comments.