2014 marks the first Thanksgiving that I will be away from my family. Every year before had been celebrated with the extended Laabs clan, clamoring around a table full of edible traditions. We’d watch the Detroit Lions lose before devouring our favorite treats, ending the night with the first Christmas carols in of the season. As kids, all of us cousins would pull out our instruments and arrange a little concert. Older now, our instruments of choice are our vocal cords, primed liberally with alcohol.
I consider myself very lucky for having those many years together, but the distance from my family is already giving me a new perspective on Thanksgiving. In those many years, I was so focused on shoving my face with my grandma’s pumpkin pie, so busy receiving that I forgot to give thanks.
I’m not talking about saying “thank you.” Gratitude and thanks are meant to be given to others, and if it’s truly sincere, it is an expression that comes with weight. The debt of gratitude is heavy.
On many blogs, I’ve seen it suggested to keep a gratitude journal, where you take a few moments out of your day to write down five things you’re grateful for. It seems like a good idea, but it never stuck with me. I couldn’t figure out why until I realized that writing it down wasn’t enough: Giving thanks is a social act.
Our words have power that shouldn’t be wasted in a private notebook. Instead of writing down a short list that you’ll forget by the end of the day, start a meaningful conversation with someone who has made your life better by being in it. Tell them what you notice about them, and why you are so grateful for it. Let them know that they have made a difference. The purpose of your gratitude isn’t to make you happy, it is to lift others up.
I realize that you’re probably not going to sit down on Thanksgiving Day and write a bunch of long letters to people, and that’s okay, because this isn’t meant to be a holiday-specific activity. I hope that Thanksgiving can serve as a realignment that helps us put giving back in the forefront of our lives.
When someone from the past pops into my head, I don’t just think about them or what they did or who they are, I reach out. I have been sending some rather lengthy messages to people, just communicating my gratitude for who they are and the influence they had on my life. I don’t want or expect anything in return, but the truth is that the expression of my gratitude has already repaid me with far more joy than I ever got from a journal.
Most of the time, we are completely unaware of the effect we have on others. I know that I have just gone on living my life, not realizing that someone else was motivated by my actions. When people in my life have shared their appreciation for something I did or said, their words were tremendously influential and empowering. We can all empower people by helping them see what we see. At the expense of a little time, we can change someone’s day or even their life by being that little ray of sunshine that cuts through lonelines or negative self-talk. Giving our thanks to others is free, but also priceless.
What a special gift to give! I hope that wherever you are this Thanksgiving, you remember to really give your thanks to those who deserve it.