Thanksgiving: It’s a time for way too much pie and too little working out, for football and for family, and most importantly, for giving thanks. Heading toward this important (translation: food-related) holiday, I’ve been thinking about what it means to give thanks.
For many of us, I think giving thanks is a process of solitary reflection. Though these utterances of gratitude might be verbalized around the Thanksgiving dinner table, they might not make it much further than that.
I think that there is a lot of value in reflection upon our blessings. It makes us happier, more satisfied, and more willing to accept the negatives of life because we know that for every negative, there are so many more things that make life undeniably fulfilling.
One challenge I issue to you for this Thanksgiving season (and beyond!) is to start writing in a gratitude journal daily. I recently started writing in a gratitude journal, and I’m amazed at how much I’ve begun to see the effects I just mentioned. Every day, I take time to reflect and write down five things that I am grateful for.
On particularly good days, I’ve had no problem coming up with five. Those days are in themselves something to be grateful for, but I’ve found a lot more value in those days that have been less pleasant. The days that I’ve sat down, thinking there was no way I could fill those five lines, have been an eye-opener. They’ve made me realize that there is always something to be grateful for. It depends on how willing you are to open your eyes and see it.
What is in front of us might be ominous and seemingly insurmountable, but what is in our periphery – friends, family, even the peace found in sitting down with a cup of tea for ten minutes and reading for pleasure – makes it possible for us to handle that which is trying.
While I think that daily gratefulness is so important for our own well-being, I would like to issue you a second challenge for this Thanksgiving season: take your thanks-giving to those you’re giving thanks for!
Giving thanks in tangible ways directly to those people that we are thankful can be immeasurably powerful. In eighth grade, a teacher asked our class to write a letter to someone who we were thankful for, and we got extra credit if we actually gave it to the person. I wrote one to my Sunday school teacher, who was so very important in shaping my faith, and whose impact on my life is still real for me today, and sent it to him.
Not only did he tell me the letter had so much affected him that it reduced him to tears, but even years later he told me he still had the letter, and referred to it in times of self-doubt. Gratitude is powerful in action.
This personal expression of gratitude doesn’t just have to be for those close to us. I know around our Thanksgiving dinner table, we all mention how thankful we are for our troops. I know we aren’t the only family who feels that way, and I can’t imagine how powerful it would be if even 1% of Americans made that gratitude actionable. A letter to a soldier or a few hours spent volunteering in a veterans’ residence is a beautiful expression of thanks that can even be life-altering for the recipient.
(This gratitude in action does not just affect the recipient in profound ways. It also can permanently increase our happiness. Studies have shown that the “gratitude letter” exercise increases our happiness levels even months after we have delivered the letter. Making others happy by giving thanks for them making us happy makes us more happy. Can’t beat that!)
Whether you’re with friends or family (or both!), home or far away, I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving I’ll be at home, watching football, spending time with family, and thinking of valid excuses for living on pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. Oh, and giving thanks, of course!