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'Focus on the small wins': How NBCU's on-air women are finding gratitude during a holiday season like no other

Mika Brzezinski, Sheinelle Jones, Stephanie Ruhle, Katy Tur, Yasmin Vossoughian and Hallie Jackson share how they are giving thanks amid a difficult year.
From left to right: Mika Brzezinski, Sheinelle Jones and Hallie Jackson.
From left to right: Mika Brzezinski, Sheinelle Jones and Hallie Jackson.NBCU

Thanksgiving season is here. But as we enter eight months and counting into a grueling pandemic, it can be hard to focus on giving thanks amid the loss, pain and fatigue.

Know Your Value recently spoke to several on-air women on MSNBC and NBC News about the challenges that are top of mind for them as we close out a difficult year — and how they’re finding gratitude during a holiday season like no other.

Mika Brzezinski, “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder

Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski.
Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski.Miller Hawkins

What’s difficult for Brzezinski is “the fact that we cannot be together,” she said, noting COVID-19 will keep many families physically apart during the holidays.

“Between the tense election and virus constraints, many of us are divided, whether it be politically or because of COVID-19 restrictions,” Brzezinski added. “I miss just being able to ‘be together’ — no strings attached.”

Still, she said, she’s grateful that the restrictions have forced her to learn how to slow down, a lesson that is perhaps the one silver lining. And she thinks many people have become more mindful about each step they take.

“We value our time together, too,” Brzezinski said. “Since it requires often a two-week quarantine, or other clunky efforts to connect, our sense of value about our personal relationships has deepened. We are less flip and casual about each other, about life. That’s a good thing.”

Sheinelle Jones, “3rd Hour of TODAY” co-host

Image: Today - Season 66
Sheinelle JonesNathan Congleton / NBC

For Jones, like many, the biggest challenges tend to change daily. Having to worry about the logistical aspects about her work (like setting up her shots and making sure her Internet access doesn’t cut out) adds a layer that was never there before.

Another daily, top-of-mind consideration is “protecting the childhoods” of her three children, Kayin, Clara and Uche.

“They’re doing hybrid schedules [at school], but they miss recess and seeing their friends like usual,” Jones said. “Not to be too nostalgic, but you think, ‘dang I hope the sun comes out soon.’ They deserve to enjoy a food fight in the cafeteria.”

In the meantime, her family participates in recess-like games outside, writes down what they’re thankful for on slips of paper that go into a gratitude jar and talks often about how grateful they are for their health. Jones has begun cooking, an “earth-shattering” event for a woman who had never chopped garlic in her life, she joked. And she tries to get her body moving every day.

“You just focus on the small wins,” she said. “No one denies there is hurt. I miss my grandparents, who I haven’t seen since February, but some people have lost their grandparents to the virus. The feelings are valid, but we have to keep things in perspective and be grateful for what we do have.”

Stephanie Ruhle, NBC News senior business correspondent and MSNBC anchor

Stephanie Ruhle with husband Andy Hubbard and their three children, Harrison, Reese and Drew.
Stephanie Ruhle with husband Andy Hubbard and their three children, Harrison, Reese and Drew.Courtesy of Stephanie Ruhle.

“Time and health are two things that I’ve always known cannot be controlled and must be honored,” Ruhle said. “That has never been more relevant than it is now, during Covid. Both have been huge sources of anxiety and guilt in my life.”

Ruhle’s ever-present juggle between parenting her three kids and working her busy schedule has often left her feeling stretched thin. For 20 years, she’s often canceled her own doctor appointments. She doesn’t sleep enough. Guilt over lack of time with her kids led to her planning elaborate adventures. But jamming “10 pounds of fun into a 3-pound bag” left everyone stressed and upset.

“All of the chaos came to a screeching halt,” Ruhle said. “And while it is easy to get on each other’s nerves, this time together as a family and all of its uncombed hair and unbrushed teeth are what I am most grateful for…In many ways, it’s quite literally saved our lives and reconnected our family.”

Ruhle knows this abundance of time together is thanks to her ability to work from home and have her kids’ virtual learning schedules well supported — privileges that she recognizes not everyone enjoys in a time when some families are separated, essential workers are on the COVID front lines and loved ones have been lost to the virus.

“I cannot think of a single Thanksgiving dinner when we haven’t gone around the table and expressed gratitude for our health our home and one another. However, many other years, we may have been racing through those words and thinking only of hot buttered rolls and stuffing,” she said. “This year they really do mean everything. This year I am truly grateful.”

Hallie Jackson, NBC News chief White House correspondent

NBC's Hallie Jackson on the set of "Morning Joe."
NBC's Hallie Jackson on the set of "Morning Joe."Miller Hawkins

Jackson has had quite a year: She welcomed her first child, daughter Monroe, just two days before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Then she returned from maternity leave in August to her post as NBC News’ chief White House Correspondent, reporting on the contentious 2020 presidential election.

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to a moment for reflection this holiday season, Jackson said the biggest challenge she’s facing lately is “the clock. After such a relentless presidential campaign and election — covering it all from a White House that's become, at times, a COVID hot spot — I'm finding it tough to carve out time to clear my head.”

But she’s leaning on the “strong gratitude practice” that she’s worked hard to develop over the last few years, relying on techniques like one she learned on the podcast “Ten Percent Happier.”

“A researcher who studies gratitude explained it's critical to reflect on not just what you're grateful for, but why that is,” Jackson said. “Instead of simply stopping at acknowledging gratitude for, say, your supportive partner, it takes you a step further to think about the reasons why you're grateful — and what that says about where you are on your journey. I've found it really helps tap into what's most important to me.”

Yasmin Vossoughian, MSNBC anchor

MSNBC anchor Yasmin Vossoughian, left, with her mom, husband and two children.
MSNBC anchor Yasmin Vossoughian, left, with her mom, husband and two children.Courtesy of Yasmin Vossoughian.

Vossoughian continues to be worried about the “balancing act” of working and caring for her young children, Azur and Noor, as schools close and reopen because of classmates testing positive. But of course, their health is what’s most important to Vossoughian – a fact put into sharp focus after her own mother contracted COVID-19 overseas.

“We were very worried, and thanks to my NBC family she had the full support of so many doctors you normally see on TV guiding us through,” Vossoughian said. “It was a very scary time.”

Fortunately, Vossoughian’s mother is now home and doing well, and they recently reunited after she returned and quarantined after testing negative. They know others are not as lucky, and that’s what Vossoughian is thinking about this Thanksgiving.

“I know so many people have experienced loss in the last eight months, and the holidays will be a very tough time,” she said. “They will get through — but we should all be thinking about them as we celebrate in a limited, socially distanced capacity over the final months of this pretty tough year.”

Katy Tur, “MSNBC Live” anchor and NBC News correspondent

"MSNBC Live" anchor and NBC News correspondent Katy Tur holding her son Teddy before she goes on air.
"MSNBC Live" anchor and NBC News correspondent Katy Tur holding her son Teddy before she goes on air. Courtesy of Katy Tur

Tur, like most people, is feeling the pandemic fatigue. “Unfortunately, it feels like I’ve adjusted to the crappiness of the pandemic,” she said. “While I am sick and tired of being stuck in my house, I am surrendering to it.”

Though she is struggling, she’s powering through and trying not to let the situation wear her down as she stays hunkered at home with her husband and their toddler Teddy.

“I’m not one to really dwell on challenges,” Tur said. “I feel like it’s just life and you deal with it.”

And while she wishes she could have a big family Thanksgiving gathering at her new home with a proper dining table, she is focusing on a simple but important aspect of gratitude this holiday season: “Everyone is healthy and mostly still sane. So I’m happy and thankful for that.”