November is Harvest Month on the blog.
The day of Thanksgiving as celebrated in the United States has religious roots. Often, a few moments are taken from the festivity to praise an otherworldly being for good luck and a bounty of food. Yet many people do not have this tradition or inclination toward the spiritual. It makes them no less grateful a human being, of course.
Recently, I have witnessed and received praise that has me thinking about how we could bring giving thanks to a more terrestrial level. At a recent party, a coworker of my wife, Sara, heaped superlatives effusively upon her for 5-10 minutes about her job performance and how valuable her contributions are. I have received two compliments at school that give me confidence about my future in my chosen field. Having been in and witnessed situations where people seem to avoid expressing thanks, I was especially heartened by these words that did not have to be volunteered.
So, here are three ideas for giving thanks and praise to that which is around us this Thanksgiving week:
1) Thanks & Praise Ambush: The intention here is to catch someone completely by surprise, so likely you will be reflecting on something done in the past that upon reflection deserves a bright light shone upon it. I consider what Sara received to be a delightful ambush, because it came from out of the blue. It is important for people to hear the good things they do, even if those actions are in the job description. Have you ever noticed how quickly the negative can be amplified amid all the things done well? Negativity breeds fear, resentment, and more negativity, spreading quickly through the ranks. So can positivity do the opposite, and that is where our focus should be.
Activity: Find anyone you know who has done something deserving of thanks and praise and speak from the heart about what they did. Many people brush away compliments, so make sure they hear it and take it in. As a bonus, do it in front of someone else.
2) We’ve Never Met, But… This one depends on the kindness of strangers and tapping into one’s inner extrovert, because it will take engaging with someone you hardly know, if at all. Another Sara experience brought this one to mind.
One night, Sara was caught in dreadful traffic in the D.C. area, to the point where a normally quick commute became a standstill for over an hour. Another driver caught in the cluster lost engine power, so Sara pulled over to give her a jump. Upon completion, Sara headed back to her car with the cables and had a $20 bill thrust in her face. A bystander had seen what Sara did and was so moved he felt she should be rewarded monetarily. Better than I, Sara turned the money down after three offers and asked him to pay it forward to someone else in need.
Activity: If you see someone doing good for someone else, let them know. Express gratitude for their contribution to a happier, more smoothly run society. If they happen to be working and “just doing their job,” ask to speak with their manager to let them know.
I love doing this when I have great service in a restaurant, as I did when I stopped for dinner in Fridley, Minnesota, in 2003 – still the best service I ever received. You can say a lot in your tip, but compliments to another person who oversees them can go far in how they are treated on the job.
3) Thank Something Non-Human: In the past year, I have thanked a headache for reminding me that I needed to slow down and tend to my tiredness. I have thanked my cats for providing us with companionship and happiness. (As cat disciplinarian, I have to be especially certain not only to focus on the mischief.) I have thanked a plate of food and sent it love, because it was going to nourish me. And every year, since I was a kid, I thank the Christmas tree for giving its life for our holiday tradition. Though I’ve not done it myself, I have watched someone take the words “tree hugger” and put them into action.
Obviously, these objects, events, and living critters cannot understand us, but evidence abounds that grateful, happy, appreciative, and loving intentions bear grateful, happy, appreciative, and loving fruit around us. It reminds me that the things in life are not merely disposable; that we shouldn’t take the tree or the cat for granted, that the headache is telling us something deeper about our state of being, that the food is becoming a part of our being once it passes into our mouths.
It doesn’t have to be done out loud. It is more a way of moving through the world, happy to be here.
Activity: Thank something out of the ordinary for being what it is and for the benefit from which you derive it. It could be a waste treatment facility that cleans the water while emitting a less than pleasant odor, a noisy leafblower that tidies up the yard, or the cement that is the foundation of your house. You might feel silly, but how would life present itself without them? Looking a positives does not mean negatives are eliminated. It just shifts the mindset to see the green grass on your side of the fence.
Finally: Look in the mirror. Thank yourself for being here and treat yourself with grace.