It is a quiet morning at my house the Friday after Thanksgiving. The refrigerator is filled with leftovers and the crowd has gone home. I walk through my silent house, surveying the cleaning needed after the celebration. My eyes focus on the living room carpet and analyze what I see. Some would say that the carpet needs vacuuming, but I see reminders of four generation’s footsteps. The kitchen counter is stacked with clean dishes to put away and I am grateful that we all had as much delicious food as we wanted to eat. None of the chairs are under the dining room table where they belong. I am grateful for family and friends who sat in those chairs to celebrate thankfulness together. An older family member’s empty coffee cup is sitting on the table in the den. I guess some folks would be irritated she didn’t put it into the sink, but I am happy that she visited, even though it makes her very tired.
I’ve heard it said that thanksgiving is more than just a day, it is a lifestyle. To consistently be grateful for what we have in our lives sometimes requires an adjustment of how we manage our own expectations. I appreciate a clean house, but that is not what I have now. My choices were to clean the house and ignore my guests; or to sacrifice sleep and clean my house. Instead I made the decision to enjoy my guests, get some rest, and tackle cleaning the next day.
Choices need to be made in life. We each are in the driver’s seat of our own lives and can chose the road that leads to our gratitude. There will be potholes along the way, maybe even a flat tire. Josh Shipp once said, “You either get bitter or you get better. It's that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.”
My messy house belongs to me, but so do the memories of a shared meal in honor of thankfulness. I can choose what I focus on. I choose to focus on gratitude. Life will never be perfect. It will be messy, and we will make mistakes along the way. There is also gratitude along the way.
Many years ago, a co-worker invited me to her Thanksgiving celebration. I declined as I was spending the day with my family, but asked what she meant by a phrase in her invitation “Thanksgiving for people who don’t have any place to go for Thanksgiving.” Her answer has haunted me for almost thirty years.
Her Thanksgiving feast was large, with fifty or more people in attendance. Guests were invited to bring others along. The result was a fascinating cornucopia of humanity, all coming together for a feast. Laughter, conversation, and wine flowed until the wee hours of the morning. Reasons for attending varied. Some people could not get home for the holiday, either because they could not afford the travel or could not take the time off work. Others were no longer welcome because of who they chose to love and some people came from families so dysfunctional that it was not safe to go home.
Her answer shocked me to silence, then moved me to tears. I’ve never forgotten that conversation. Every Thanksgiving I begin the day with a prayer for “people who don’t have any place to go for Thanksgiving”.
Thrive Global recently published a blog that made me think of that conversation many years ago.
Katherine Schafler refers to four questions, attributed to Maya Angelou, that we all unconsciously ask:
Ms. Schafler suggests that we ask these questions during every human interaction. We unconsciously ask these questions with our loved ones, professional colleagues, even the barista who prepares our coffee. They ask these questions of us as well. We begin asking these silent questions at an early age and continue to ask throughout our lives.
What are your answers to these questions? These questions and their answers have the power to impact your life. Did you see your wife/husband this morning or were you distracted by the television? Did you see your son/daughter or were you distracted by a phone call? Did you see the grocery store cashier or were you mentally reviewing your chore list? What would you like to do differently on Thanksgiving Day to let others know that you see them, to let others know that you care?
This year I am overflowing with gratitude for family and friends. My hope is that they know that I see them, and they are special to me. My wish for you, dear reader, is that you see the people around you and that you are also seen.
Is Thanksgiving healthy? There are proven health benefits found in giving thanks, including enhanced sleep, reduced stress, and strengthened immune systems. Philosophy and religion have long extolled the benefits of giving thanks. Now science has proof that giving thanks is good for you.
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., Lab Director at UCDavis, is the world’s leading scientific authority on gratitude. His research indicates that an attitude of gratitude positively affects heart health, by lowering blood pressure and stabilizing heart rhythms. In a controlled study of patients with neuromuscular disease, the patients who actively practiced gratitude reported fewer symptoms and less pain. Numerous studies prove that gratitude journaling promotes enhanced sleep, allowing participants to fall asleep faster and experience a better quality of sleep.
Would you like to experience fewer colds? Gratitude can help with that as well. Research from the University of Utah found that first year law students who practiced gratitude daily had stronger immune systems than students who did not practice gratitude, even though both groups were subjected to the same stressors. The optimism associated with a grateful mindset is believed to increase the blood cells that protect us from viruses.
Documented wellness benefits include better sleep quality, reduced stress, less pain, and stronger immune systems. Want a quick way to get started with a gratitude practice? Try taking a daily gratitude break, ten minutes dedicated to writing down three things you are grateful for. It can be simple items, such as the warm feeling of sunshine on your face, or it can be more profound, such as unexpected kindness from a stranger. DYG Coaching offers a Thirty Days of Gratitude Journaling ecourse free of charge by registering here.
If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily. - Gerald Good