Seeing as it’s Thanksgiving over in the US this week, I have been thinking a lot about, well… giving thanks. So it seemed only right to focus on it for this week’s life lessons.
I always feel a little sad we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK. Unlike Black Friday, it is an American tradition I would gladly adopt (or re-adopt given it was brought to the US in the 1600s in the form of our, now rather vague, Harvest Festival). Imagine that, a whole day just to be thankful. It sounds like something a lot of people could benefit from.
So what does it mean to give thanks?
I started thinking about this post yesterday on my walk to the post office. I was worried it would overlap too much with a previous post about gratitude, which led me to ask myself if being thankful is the same as being grateful. At first I figured they were pretty much the same thing but dug a bit deeper into the grey matter and came up with quite a fundamental difference. Walking is a great way to think freely!
To me, gratitude is an internal feeling, that warm glow of relief and happiness and joy inspired by the subject. Whereas to be thankful, to give thanks is a verb. Being grateful is an acknowledgement whereas giving thanks requires action.
My belly and heart feel grateful for the food on my table, I give my thanks (money) to the farmer who grew the grain to bake the bread. Perhaps capitalism isn’t the most spiritual example but I hope it illustrates my point!
How about this, I was grateful for the autumn blue skies and beautiful trees on my walk, and I give my thanks by picking up the McDonald’s wrappers some douche thought it was okay to dump by the side of the field.
How do we give thanks?
I used to work for an American company who shut down their main HQ for a few days during Thanksgiving, and we, in the UK, were always thankful for being able to go home a little early instead of staying for late meetings which were so often needed to accommodate the time zones. That same HQ was recently evacuated, along with many of it’s workers from their homes because of the horrific fires in California.
It’s strange that when these disasters occur it hits home so much more when you know people in direct proximity. Although it was thousands of miles away from me, it really impacted me as I heard about friends being evacuated. It made me think about how we really don’t know what is round the corner and how pointless it is to worry about most of the stuff we worry about.
So I spent the day looking for things to be grateful for. Gratitude lists are always a good way to get a little perspective!
When hearing about a disaster, the typical empathic person would imagine how horrific it might be if something that scary happened to them, so when they try to empathise with those who it does impact, it is really their own fear that they are expressing. Condolences are sparked out of fear and also a sense of immense gratitude. This is certainly my experience anyway.
I kind of feel a bit shitty about this because it’s pretty self serving but it’s also the human survival instinct. It’s not like we are wishing bad things on others or lauding it over the afflicted, but I’m fairly sure that anyone who doesn’t feel that relief it’s not them is lying!
Okay, rabbit warren digression there, sorry!
So we are grateful that out house hasn’t burned down. How do we go about expressing our thanks for whatever we have on our gratitude list?
It’s not a stretch to suggest that if we all spent more time giving thanks for what we do have instead of bitching about what we don’t, then the world would be a happier, more contented place. Of course there is always room for improvement and there is nothing wrong with wanting more – but let’s not forget where we started! The being thankful for what we have and being ambitious are not mutually exclusive states.
So I had a think about ways that we can actively give thanks and this is what I came up with. I’m going to experiment with giving some of these a go over the next week and see what happens!
1. Be kind
Pay it forward, send someone a gift, pay for the coffee of the person in the queue behind you, help someone with their shopping, commit a random act of kindness, help someone with a door, tell someone they have loo roll attached to their shoe…
2. Do something generous
Give your time, your money, your things to someone who need them. This could be a charitable donation, helping a friend move, giving someone a lift somewhere, volunteer for a community organisation, put your change in the charity box, invite someone to dinner.
3. Do something thoughtful
Say Thank you! Tell someone you are thankful for them and all that they do, (even if they piss you off some of the time). We so often take people for granted so stop and think about whose day you could make by telling them how much you appreciate them. This could be a friend, relative, boss, employee, post person, checkout person, rubbish collector… There are so many unseen people in our lives who make it better – find them and tell them you know!
4. Do something creative
Send a card, paint a picture, bake a cake. Nothing says thank you more than putting your love into a project dedicated to the thought of one person
5. Show your interest in something outside your world
Talk to those folks collecting for charity outside the supermarket, they are giving their time, so why not take a moment to find out a bit about them and their cause. You never know what you might learn!
6. Be mindful
Think about the impact your actions have on others. What is the impact of not giving thanks?
I hear stories of people who have spent hours making gifts for people only for them to be discarded. It’s a really shitty thing to do. Even if you don’t like a gift, take a moment to acknowledge the effort and love which comes with it before you stick it in the back of a cupboard. Imagine you had put 30 hours into making a blanket for someone and you go round and find their dog tearing it up. I have had one specific occasion where a handmade gift wasn’t even acknowledged until I checked they had actually received it. That kind of behaviour feels horrible. Like your time, and by association you, are worth nothing. lets just say that individual will be getting generic presents from the gift cupboard from now on!
So take a moment to understand the damage, and therefore the good you can do by simply being aware.
7. Be honest, be yourself
I think this is one of the biggest ways you can give your thanks to another human. Showing someone your true self with all your vulnerabilities and fears is an act of courage. To know that someone trusts you enough to show you themselves, warts and all is a privilege which can only be repaid in kind.
It doesn’t have to be quite this dramatic, but sharing something personal and true with someone builds a bond and can make the other person feel less alone. You may even find that they feel, think or have experienced the same thing.
I think that’s a pretty reasonable list to be getting in with.
So I will leave you by saying thanks for reading and sticking with me!
Here is a visual token of my appreciation (and THANK YOU to Unsplash and all their talented photographers for all their beautiful Images which I so often share on this blog).
Big Thankful Love