By now, I think we’ve all heard that practicing gratitude is a good thing. It’s an important part of maintaining good mental health for people of all ages, and helps keep many of the ills of our materialistic world at bay. In my personal life, I try and bring gratitude into our house by going around the dinner table and asking everyone what they are thankful for. Sometimes we have fantastic, deep, meaningful family conversations that spring from this little exercise. But, just as often (ok, fine, probably more often), at least one member of the family says something really profound like, “I’m thankful for tater tots,” or “I’m thankful that today is almost over.” Is this missing the point of the gratitude practice? I dunno. Maybe. But I sort of think not, and here’s why: even in these less than inspiring moments, we’re finding something to be thankful for.

I’ve found this practice of Find-Something-Yes-Anything-To-Be-Grateful-For valuable in my professional life, too. Yes, those of us in the special ed world really do have the opportunity every day to see the most amazing things happen. Some days my thankful cup runneth over. Students! Families! Technology! Co-workers! Due Process! I have All The Feelings about the wonder that is working with kids with disabilities and their families and the other people dedicated to this work.

And then there are The Other Days. The “I’m thankful but . . . “ days. Or, what I sometimes call “every other Tuesday.”

No matter who we are, we have days at work that are awful. For all of the rewards that come with this work, so too come some pretty epic dumpster fires. And sometimes, it’s more than just a day or two. Sometimes changes happen outside our control that make it so we’re in a job that we dislike more than we like. How can we find gratitude when everything has gone all wrong? When half of our department quits in a month? When we’re given an extra building to add to our caseload? When we’ve got to share a broom closet office with someone who brings tuna for lunch everyday?

thankful but

It’s tough. No getting around it. But, like I tell my kids, there’s always something to be thankful for. Set the bar as low as you need to, friend. Remember the tater tots, above. And if you need some non-potato product related inspiration, give these a go:

Survival and Endurance

Staying in a job that is long-term unhealthy is, well, unhealthy. You should get out as soon as you can if this is the case. But often times the rough times are short-term and they eventually pass. This is when the simple-yet-effortlessly-elegant “I’m thankful that this day is over” delivered within a heavy sigh comes in handy. However you phrase it, you survived and that’s not nuthin’.

Unexpected Growth

Ok. Yes. This one can be a stretch in the moment. It’s really hard to feel gratitude for an awful job when you’re presently in an endless nightmare overseen by said job. But did anything happen today that showed you that you have a super power you’d never known about? And when I say “super power,” I’m talking about things like resisted responding to passive aggressive email from coworker and walked out of work at 4:30 pm with no paperwork in hand and assertively made my case for something I believe strongly in. You can be thankful for these little glimpses of the rock star you are in your soul, for the courage it took to do something different, or for the circumstances that showed you what you’re really made of.

Enlightenment

Humans are loyal beyond logic, and a sometimes situation needs to get truly atrocious to show us that it’s time to move on down the road. The illumination of just how awful it’s become can be the gift of that proverbial final straw, the wretched day at work that finally pushed you too far. This may be gratitude expressed through gritted teeth or through tears, but either way, this is gratitude that will fuel your resolve to make a positive change in your life.

The Little Things

The bleakness of the world is sometimes a call to recognize the hard-working office supplies and other little things in your life that make life a little less bad. I have in all honesty been reduced to being thankful for a pen that works (end of a v. long and v. contentious IEP). Sticky notes — bless the sticky notes and their unwavering answer when called into duty, day in and day out. The true genius that is a paper clip when attempting to organize the bottomless piles of paper that define the special ed desk aesthetic. And speaking of paper, I’ve been around long enough that I remember hand writing IEPs on NCR. So I’ve always got “I am thankful that I do not have a debilitating hand cramp” to fall back on when I’m furious at the IEP computer program I’m working with. In all likelihood, you’re surrounded by tiny things that your life would be less good without, and acknowledging them can hit the reset button on a less-than-stellar day.

So, in this season of thankfulness and gratitude, I hope you are able to remember that having a “Thankful but . . . “ day at work doesn’t make you a self-absorbed jerk. It makes you human. And sometimes humans are allowed to just be thankful that today is over and that tomorrow, like always, is a brand new day.