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The great blessings of gratitude, even in a pandemic

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A student walks past a mural encouraging the wearing of face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, on the main road of Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Arabic reads: “protect yourself.”

Adel Hana, Associated Press

My grandmother, Minnie Egan Anderson, lived her life as if everything was a miracle to be grateful for. Perhaps that’s why her favorite holiday was Thanksgiving.

She loved to gather her family and friends to give thanks for each other and for blessings received. She believed and, in fact, it proved to be true, that a good Thanksgiving meal and a good dose of gratitude would wash away heartaches, grudges and misunderstandings. 

Today, there exists scientific evidence for what my grandmother instinctively knew: that gratitude is good for us in many ways. Psychology Today published an article with the headline, “Seven Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” It cited studies showing that thankfulness improves relationships, physical health, sleep and self-esteem; increases happiness and reduces depression; enhances empathy and reduces aggression; and increases mental health by reducing stress and anxiety.

During Thanksgiving dinner, my grandmother would have everyone share one blessing they were grateful for, and then have them say how they used that blessing to help others. Then she asked us to share a story of a person we were grateful for, who had made a difference in our lives during the past year. And then she would ask, “Did you thank that person?” She encouraged us to show our gratitude by our actions.

I will always remember the warm and happy feelings I had as a child, the miracle of being at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving table, eating her food, listening to those I loved tell what they were thankful for, counting our blessing, and sharing how we used our blessings. I believe it made a big difference in my life. It helped all of us shift from being internally focused to being externally focused.

When I got married and Jesselie and I started our own Thanksgiving traditions, a few memories stand out, especially when we were living away from our families.

Our first Thanksgiving together was spent in Tokyo, Japan, where I worked for Bank of America. Jesselie went to the local grocery story and found, miraculously, that the store had imported turkeys for the Americans living in Tokyo during the holidays. Jesselie bought a small 10-pound turkey for $60 (a lot of money in 1980) and was thrilled because it was a Norbest Turkey from Moroni, Utah. We greatly enjoyed that Utah turkey in Japan.

When our children were still young, we lived in Piedmont, California. To give Jesselie time to fix the dinner without interruption, I took the children over to San Francisco to look at the beautiful holiday windows. On this outing, we ran into a young Tom Hanks doing the same thing, taking advantage of an empty city to enjoy looking at the Christmas decorations. 

Our children have always remembered that experience, and Jesselie has never forgotten that Thanksgiving dinner because as we sat down to a cornucopia of food, including Williamsburg sweet potato pudding and sausage stuffing, our children said, “Can we just go get a hamburger instead?”

This year, with COVID-19 raging, Thanksgiving will be different, and much smaller. But it doesn’t have to be any different in our appreciation for our blessings, and we can still express gratitude to those around us who bless our lives.

I am grateful for many things: for my family, for our free country, for the service men and women who keep us safe, for the frontline health care workers, for school teachers, and for so much more.

I’m especially thankful this year that our community, our state, our nation, our businesses and each of us, as individuals, are more focused than ever before on diversity, inclusion and equality for all.

I hope all of us can start a new tradition — a tradition of assessing our lives and actions and removing our unconscious biases, of committing to be more inclusive, to better appreciate our differences and working to correct social injustices and inequality.

I’m thankful that we are turning our attention to these issues, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to prosper.

I wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.