“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget
that the highest appreciation is not to utter words,
but to live by them.”
~ John F. Kennedy
I wrote about thankfulness and appreciation in my post on Wealth, but I’m taking the opportunity of Thanksgiving Day to write about it again, because it’s so important. There are darker truths behind the warm and fuzzy stories we’ve been told about the relationship between the First American Immigrants and the First Native Americans, and we should not forget that on this day. It is, however, a good thing to have at least one day a year when everyone thinks about giving thanks. Aside from the turkey dinner, the football games, the Macy’s parade, the National Dog Show, and the opening bell of the Christmas shopping season, we are all reminded to give thankfulness at least a passing thought. Kids in school write little notes of thanks for their parents, teachers, pets, toys, homes, food, health, and friends. Adults can’t avoid all of the Thanksgiving television programming or a family matriarch demanding that everyone at her table say at least one thing for which they are thankful. It would take some effort to completely avoid the thought of thankfulness at this time of year in America.
So what exactly do we think about when we think about thankfulness? We are urged to remember all the blessings we enjoy, from our families to our cars, from our friends to our good health, from our homes to our computers, from our children’s teachers to the kiddos’ music lessons and sports activities. I would go go farther to suggest that our blessings include our shoes, our food, the roads we drive on, our ability to read, medicine, science, washing machines, clothing, shelter, and the daily sunrise. The list is endless. But we forget. People with millions — even billions — in money, property, and investments complain about the prices of things they can easily afford and whine about being expected to even consider for a moment the needs of those who have far, far, far less than they do. People with clean water forget about Flint, Michigan, and people who enjoy privilege every day become outraged at the slightest suggestion that they even have any. People throughout most of America, sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with their families, will not think about those who have lost so much and so many in the California wildfires. We all need reminders to appreciate what we have and to be seriously, thoughtfully, thankful. One day out of 365 isn’t much to ask.
In addition, JFK admonished us to do something about our thankfulness, to “live by” our words of thanks. So what can we do? We can start by thinking of thankfulness as an action, rather than a feeling. We can understand our responsibility to be constantly aware of our blessings and of everyone who had a hand in bringing them about. We can take good care of them, enjoy them, and share them. We can joyfully use them for ourselves and our families, and then pass them on to others. We can donate our time, assistance, and money so that other people may receive blessings in their lives, as we have in ours. When we are acting on our appreciation, we don’t take our blessings for granted, abuse them, neglect them, or jealously hoard them. We don’t leave them in a closet, thinking they’re too good to ever use. We don’t deny ourselves the joy they could give to us and our families, or to others. We don’t get bent out of shape over every little inconvenience or desire denied us, and we don’t resent the blessings that flow through us to others. We recognize them as energy that is passing through us, inflowing and outflowing.
This year, as you are forced to think about and mention something for which you are thankful, take one more step. Say or write what you’re going to do about it. Find a Thankfulness box at a craft store or make one (kids enjoy this project). Cut some paper into smaller pieces or get some index cards. (You can find printable holiday images online with “I’m thankful for…” on them.) Write one thing you are thankful for on one side — or draw a picture of it — and on the other side, write what you are going to do about it. For example, you might be thankful for your healthy body, and decide to give up sugar or caffeine or some other habit that has less than positive effects on your health. Or, you may feel thankful for your home and finally get around to some needed repairs or improvements to it. Maybe you’re going to stop complaining about the price of food and instead, each time you shop, buy one extra item to give to a food bank. If you can recognize that others listen to you, read what you write, take you seriously, maybe you can speak up on behalf of those who don't have a voice others listen to. Feeling thankfulness is not the same as living it. So, use your imagination to transform your thoughts of appreciation into actions.
This is good opportunity for children to not only participate in a new Thanksgiving tradition, but to show the adults in your family exactly how to do it, because children are so often much better at this than adults are. It comes naturally to them. It’s obvious to them. Maybe because they are not yet convinced of their own self-sufficiency, they are more aware of how many people help them every day, of how much is given to them, thankfulness comes more easily to them. Adults asking children to name things they are thankful for will start off on a long list, while adults scratch their heads for a while, before the light goes on and they discover just how much they have to be thankful for. This is a good time to let the children lead by their example.
"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you,
it will be enough."
~ Meister Eckhart
Saying “Thank you” is great, but make sure when you say it that you mean it, and give the person you’re saying it to specifics, so they know that you mean it. For example, instead of a simple “Thanks,” you could say “Thank you for running that errand for me. I know you have your own things to do, and it really helped me out. I appreciate it.” Then offer to return the favor, and do so. Write Thank You notes. Pick up the check when you go out with friends or family members sometimes. Give tips and small gifts to the Helpful Friends in your life. When you’re decluttering, give a specific thing to a specific person only if you know they would want it, have mentioned that they like it, or could truly benefit from receiving it; don’t just add to their own clutter. Teach your children that giving does not steal anything away from you, but that all of life is a cycle of inflowing and outflowing.
Don't wait until you suffer a terrible loss to wake up to thankfulness. Yes, you could lose your home and all your possessions in a wildfire. You could lose a loved one to illness or accident. You could lose your relationships, your money, your health, your job, your comfort, your family. Instead of waiting until such a loss, appreciate what you have NOW, today, this minute. Imagine how you would feel if it was instantly taken from you. Sure, you could just feel anger, resentment, or self-pity. You could imagine that you are entitled to everything and happiness on top. Or, you could appreciate everything as it is, energy flowing through you, yours to enjoy for a time, yours to care for and love, and then, someday, let go of. Start now, at this convenient holiday reminder, to practice true thankfulness.
If you thought of your life — every day, all the time — as an expression of thankfulness, if you were truly thankful for EVERYTHING in your life, how would it change?
Look around you, think about your daily life, and imagine being thankful for every single thing, every gift, every breath, every bite of food, every cloud in the sky, every sunrise and sunset, every kind word, every open door, every moment. Just take a few seconds, every chance you get — on an elevator, in your car, walking, sitting, showering, eating, etc. — to think thankfulness, to feel thankfulness.
Challenge yourself to take thankful actions. Think of the inflowing and outflowing of energy, and your part in that freely flowing energy. Accept the energy and let it go, receive it and give it.
Whenever you say “thank you,” add a specific word about what you are thankful for and how it has blessed you. Return the favor. Keep the energy moving, inflowing and outflowing.