This past weekend was Thanksgiving up here in Canada. I love this holiday. Apart from being filled with delicious foods you probably haven’t seen since last December, it signals the beginning of cozy autumn, and it always feels like a herald of the coming winter season, both of which are seasons you know that I adore.

This year, though, I noticed some discussion of whether or not it was appropriate to celebrate Thanksgiving, given all of the challenges, trials and tribulations of our current situation.

I get it. I mean, there’s a lot going on. Political unrest, polarized populations, a frigging unending pandemic, a time of terrible truths coming to light with regards to residential schools and the discovery of thousands of lost Indigenous children, let alone the horrible impacts of the schools on those who survived.

How can we celebrate Thanksgiving in the midst of such turmoil? Is it right or good to practice gratitude when there’s so much pain and suffering around us?

I have decided, that for me, at least, these are the times when I most need to practice gratitude. Plus, I’ve decided that I don’t think that gratitude and the desire/need for change and improvement are mutually exclusive.

I believe it’s possible to be grateful for what is, while simultaneously holding hope for and demanding more from what will be in the future.

For example, as a human, born female, I am grateful to have made my entrance when and where I was born, in terms of the rights and freedoms I have as a woman, compared to say, fifty years earlier, or, you know, literally all of history prior to this right-now moment. I am clear that I have privileges that were denied to those women who went before me. I’m clear that when and where I was born have afforded me an experience of life that is not a given for all of us, past and present, of any gender or socio-economic status. I’m grateful for these things.

And, am I satisfied with gender equality as it currently stands? OH HELL NO, I’M NOT.

We have a long way to go. A looooong way. There is much work ahead. On just about everything.

I desire a heck of a lot of change and improvement in this world AND I’m glad for what I get to experience in this world, all at the same time.

I’ll say it again: Gratitude and desire are not mutually exclusive.

Having a desire for something to be different or wanting more than what you currently have does not make you selfish. Wanting more doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t grateful for what you have. It’s not an either/or.

It’s not Highlander: when it comes to your feelings and beliefs, in the end, there can be more than one.

There’s a funny truth that I’ve noticed we tend not to question, even if it makes us unhappy, which I think it often does. Namely, that we cannot hold more than one opinion, idea, belief or feeling at the same time.

This seems awfully limiting to me, and I can’t help but think that this one belief causes us all manner of confusion, guilt and shame. I mean, what do you do when other thoughts and feelings are lurking about the edges of the thoughts and emotions we’re currently thinking and feeling, especially if the lurkers are not the ones we’re “supposed” to be having?

Now, I don’t know the precise neurological science here (it may come as a surprise to you that I don’t hold a a PhD in neuroscience), though I do know that we have an awful lot of neurons, so I imagine we are almost always playing host to several different, if not competing, thoughts and feelings, all vying for our attention. I imagine it’s a big old brain game of Red Rover, with all those thoughts and emotions getting rowdy and shouting to get our attention, while only some of them break through the lines and make it through to our consciousness.

I have undertaken some research (Google) and my understanding is that while we can definitely feel a veritable punchbowl of emotions at the same time—what fun!—we can hold only one thought at a time, though we might have many changing or differing thoughts in rapid succession.

This means that you and I have all manner of thoughts, endlessly zooming through our minds and mostly talking nonsense. Thankfully, we don’t catch all of our thoughts, which is great, because honestly, a lot of them are at best ridiculous and at worst, purely bonkers and even potentially harmful, e.g. “But what if maybe I CAN fly?” or “Yes, 3 am is a GREAT time to send that text message I’m feeling strongly about.”

Beliefs, though? Beliefs are thoughts you’ve consciously chosen. Beliefs are thoughts to which you’ve taken out a regular subscription. You may not have a lot of control over what you think or feel, but you have all the control in the world over what you believe.

Beliefs are thoughts you choose.

And your brain is big enough to hold more than one. You can actively be discerning in choosing the thoughts you believe as it pertains to and empowers you in any given moment. You can change your mind. You can even hold two competing beliefs at the same time: “I can understand where they are coming from and even how they arrived at the belief they hold, even though I myself believe something different.”

Your sovereignty to choose your beliefs is what allows you to grow, learn and develop as a human. It is what allows you to exist in a busy and contradictory world, with all your many competing thoughts and feelings, alongside everyone else’s, without shutting down and losing your mind. This is no small feat.

Given, then, that we have the capacity to choose the beliefs we hold, I assert that gratitude and desire are a great place to practice being in two places at once.

In short, yes, I say, you can have gratitude and desire at the same time. And those two places are a really good place to be.