Is this the way to demonstrate thankfulness? As some obligatory affirmation before we get back to food and football? Maybe sorta. But the day of thanks should be more of an opportunity to really explore our perspective and our priorities, beyond just saying "I'm thankful for family, now let's eat".
I know what you're thinking. Why am I putting down a glorious family tradition? After all, it's all in good fun. I'm not putting it down, I'm just saying don't be surprised if you don't have a good answer when put on the spot. Instead (or in addition), try taking a personal inventory before hand to get a little perspective.
I know it sounds like a strange question to ask around Thanksgiving, but what have been your biggest complaints recently? What has really driven you crazy, created stress, wore you down? Now breaking it down further, for each of those problem areas, are there opportunities to be thankful? Perhaps on the first pass you're inclined to say "no", but think really hard about it. If you look hard enough you can find a bright spot. And the better you are able to find an opportunity, gratitude, or joy in the most challenging of situations, the more thankful you will be with life in general.
As an example, I'll provide a few of the "complaints" I've had in the past and my related gratitude.
- Complaint: I have no time. Gratitude: I'm thankful that I have a full life, and that people depend on me. It's a good idea to really look at how you're using your time. If it's just busywork or things that don't make you happy, then perhaps it's time to quit a few things and fill your time with things that do truly make you grateful.
- Complaint: I'm spending too much money, and I'm worried about finances. Gratitude: I'm thankful that I am blessed with an abundance that can support my family, our basic needs, and some of our joys. Finances are always a point of stress for people, and we always tend to spend more than we make. It's important to remember to be grateful for what we have rather than to stress out about what we don't.
- Complaint: I hate waking up early every day. Gratitude: I'm thankful that I get to see a different sunrise everyday, that I get to start my day with meditation and exercise rather than stress, and that I get more hours in the day to appreciate life to the fullest. It's easy to get up in the morning and have your first thought be "man, I do not want to wake up right now." But that will set a negative attitude for the day. Instead, I give myself time to wake up by meditating and exercising. It gets my attitude straight to start the day.
There are of course more, but these are just a few examples. My list is lengthy and personal, and some are more difficult than others to find the gratitude. But there can be thankfulness in everything. Thankfulness for lessons, for joys, for mercies, for graces, for pains, and for sorrows. It's all about what we choose to take from it.
Every few weeks or so, I get a letter from a child we sponsor through Compassion, and it helps me to put things into perspective. She is about 8 years old, and lives in a small village in Burkina Faso. In her life, she has not seen an iPhone, does not have working plumbing, and threats of violence are always a possibility in this unstable region. Yet her letters are never full of despair, fear, or heartache. But instead, I read about the joy she feels in learning new subjects in school. Or her optimism about one day wanting to become a nurse or teacher. Despite her present situation, her letters are filled with gratitude.
My complaints are puny in comparison to what many others in the world may experience. In that respect, it's easy to turn these into gratitude. For me it's a good exercise in humility and growth. If I can avoid pole vaulting over potholes and instead find gratitude in every situation, I can be a more joyous person. And in turn I can be a better person to others, and the world will be just a little bit better. That is the power of gratitude.
This Thanksgiving, remember to be truly grateful, even when you're sitting in traffic, or your team doesn't win, or if the food is overcooked. This time of year is a good time to get your perspective in the right place in preparation for the season of giving. Have a happy Thanksgiving!