Thanksgiving – or the art of gratitude

I’ll apologise up front to readers from across the Pond, but I’ve always thought of Thanksgiving as an extra holiday, shoe-horned in because you don’t get a proper break over Christmas as we do in the UK 🙂 Whilst being aware of the tradition that one joins hands and expresses something you’ve been grateful for during the past year, I’m afraid it’s always appeared to be more about the turkey and mashed potato to me.

Then one year, as my entire family was gathered around a table for lunch in late November, my sister who was visiting from her home in the US, asked that we join hands. Us “Brits” rolled our eyes but did as requested, if with a degree of embarrassment – only to be surprised by my sister’s words. She acknowledged her debt to us and expressed her thanks to us for the care we were giving my father – suffering at home with heart failure and two forms of dementia.

Her words caused me to stop and think. Even though we’d have cared for my father without them, I found I was grateful to her for the sentiment – that being appreciated gave me a warm feeling inside.

I have a problem with time-keeping and can be clumsy due to terrible balance, so I find myself apologising profusely not infrequently. The other day I apologised twice to someone for bumping into them; the second apology given after they’d told me it was absolutely fine. As I pondered on my behaviour, something drifted up from my subconscious – a suggestion that rather than apologising, we offer thanks to the other party. Instead of feeling daft, what if I’d said “thank you” when told “not to worry” about my accidental bump, rather than apologising again? Instead of apologising for being late, what if I expressed my gratitude for the patience being displayed in awaiting my arrival? I began to see how this might be a good idea …

The growing Happiness movement advocates a regular gratitude practice. I’ve observed its effectiveness, but never actively practised it; being a positive person by nature, I’ve never felt there was a need. But I have started to notice how draining it is when you are surrounded by the negative – by people who are in the habit of expressing their negative thoughts and feelings out loud. They will, in all likelihood, have no idea of the impact of their behaviour. The views they express may even be shared by you, so they’ll be unable to understand how what they’re doing could be perceived to be wrong. But there is an impact, if all you hear – all day, every day – is sadness, frustration, anger, of deceit and of greed.

In those circumstances, what can you do to lift your spirits? Could this be why cute cat and dog memes are rampant on social media? Does this explain the massive popularity of the fantasy genre in literature? When there is so much in the world that is Not Good, do we need to balance it with Anything Good, or to find ways to escape it?

Maybe finding a way to say thank you – to friends, strangers and to life itself is more than just a good idea – it might actually be necessary.

Do you following the practice of giving thanks on Thanksgiving?  Do you have a system to lift your mood when your spirits are low – be that music, reading, exercise … or do you advocate gratitude? 

© Debra Carey, 2019

12 thoughts on “Thanksgiving – or the art of gratitude

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  1. We don’t give thanks traditionally…but I think I’m decent at being thankful for the good things I do have. Music and reading always helps my spirits though. What can go wrong under a blanket with a book and tea?

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  2. I am an advocate for gratitude especially before complaining. I find that gratitude helps give us perspective and possibly especially so when dealing with health or other stressful times.

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  3. Great thoughts. We only eat two meals a year as a family sitting around the same table. One is Thanksgiving and one is Christmas. On Thanksgiving we do tell each other what we are thankful for but we don’t hold hands. Gratitude is something I try to practice all the time for the very reasons you say. As far as lifting my spirits, I craft.

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  4. One of the best ways of raising the spirits, I have found, is expressed in a quotation I found recently: ‘little acts of unconsidered kindness’. For example I was recently trying to get out of church quickly so that I could get to the cemetery before the hearse, but my view of the road to the left was blocked by a flatbed truck and trailer loaded with wreaths. Someone on my right stopped and let me out instead of bulldozing their way through (even though I had calculated that the road was narrow enough that if they _did_ bulldoze their way through that would effectively leave me a clear space anyway). Or the person who stepped back and held the shop door open for me when I was laden. Such things oil the mechanism of our human interactions and are catching!

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  5. David, you’re spot on there. I do believe that gratitude ahead of complaint is the key to navigating stressful times with more grace and less stress.

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  6. Janet, I’m glad to hear that you adhere to the gratitude part of Thanksgiving (I’m more than happy to forego the hand-holding too ;)) I’m becoming more & more convinced by the effectiveness of gratitude. I would so love to indulge myself in crafting, but am aware of the uplifting nature of my photography & writing, so won’t attempt to split myself further – quite yet. But one day 🙂

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  7. Alan, I love that and couldn’t agree more. Some of what used to be regarded as courtesy are acts of consideration & kindness and, if only more of us practised those acts, the world would be vastly improved. After an especially difficult period this summer, I stormed out after a row to cool down. On impulse, I dropped in on a friend who’s undergoing treatment for cancer. His pleasure at having company, at having someone sit and listen to him did so much for me and my mood (but I suspect you know exactly what I mean).

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  8. I do like your idea of thanking rather than asking for forgiveness. There’s a ring of authenticity to that, perhaps even more meaningful.

    Of course, I suppose skeptics out there might see thanking in advance as a form of presumption too; but maybe I should leave my own family out of this. 😉 – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Marty, that was my initial reaction – wouldn’t it leave me open to people thinking I was being presumptuous? But, with time, I’ve decided I do like the more positive aspect of it & unless I was to misuse it – for example, in making no attempt to being on time while still thanking people for waiting – it’s the way forward for me. I feel more able to consider this option now as I’ve been working hard at my timekeeping after a dear friend called me on it a few years ago to the extent that I feel terribly stressed if not on time 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I agree, it does really sit well with the current thinking around gratitude 🙂


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