The gift of thanks

It’s never too early to celebrate Thanksgiving. In fact, aside from the turkey and fixings which would quickly grow tiresome, it ought to be a daily observance.

Recent studies have shown that if there is a key to a happy marriage, it’s being thankful. Continually being reminded to be thankful to and for one’s spouse actually makes you a grateful and happy person. And being continually reminded by your spouse of the gratitude felt for who you and and what you do gives happy feelings right back.

Saying, “Thank you,” makes you thankful, even if you weren’t thankful before.

Thanksgiving is actually a form of gift giving, the giving of thanks. As gifts go, it’s the cheapest gift anyone can give. And yet it requires something from us. It requires us to leave aside our petty grievances and foolish grudges. It’s either that or lie when we say the words, “Thank you.”

Ann Voskamp, in her book A Thousand Gifts, suggests that it’s impossible to have two emotions driving us at the same time. (I’m not so sure about that, and I know that the ending to Pixar’s Inside Out disagrees, but I’m guessing that there’s generally a dominant emotion at any given time, even if it’s not exclusive.) Her point is: When we choose to be thankful, we’re choosing against other emotions, especially negative emotions.

Who wouldn’t prefer the positive emotions attached to gratitude over the negative emotions attached to the grumbling of self-pity?

So what happens is this: Thanksgiving becomes a gift both to the ones we speak our thankful words to and to ourselves, for both the speaker and the hearer receive happy emotions in the process of the speaking and hearing.

But that attitude of gratitude is a tough one to turn on if it’s rarely used. The move from a self-oriented, self-pitying take on life to an other-oriented, other-thanking take on life can be like leaping the Grand Canyon to those of us who are infrequent thankers.

Like every other practice in life, the more we engage in gratitude, the easier it becomes.

So, why wait until Thanksgiving to get started? Why not come to the laden table with a heart full of gratitude from practicing it?

So, take out a pencil and paper (your computer will work, too, but pencil and paper work so much better) and set a timer for five minutes. Then start writing down as quickly as you can things you’re thankful for. And don’t let the silliness of some of them stop you from writing them down — remove your filter. If the Minions from Despicable Me come to mind because they make you laugh, write them down.

You’re not looking for the perfect answer here. You’re looking for any hint of gratitude that exists inside of you.

You see, that’s the whole purpose of this exercise: To uncover all of the things we’re actually grateful for deep down and to speak our gratitude.

Hopefully, during the process, you’ll think of a few names and have jotted them down on your paper. It may be someone you haven’t seen for many years. That’s great! You’ve unlocked a forgotten part of your heart. In any case, take a few minutes to write some postcards, send some texts, write some emails,  make some phone calls, whatever — just let those people know you’re thankful for them. It’s amazing what will happen inside of them because of that.

Years ago, someone I hadn’t seen since high school graduation almost 20 years before contacted me through, which was a pretty novel idea back then. He told me that he’d been suicidal during our last year of high school but that my friendship had pulled him out of it.

Getting that message stunned me. He had waited almost 20 years to share it with me, while I had moved on with my life and forgotten about him. But that message widened my heart so that he fit back into it again, and he’s never left since.

His gratitude changed me. His words made my heart bigger.

We have that ability: To make bigger both our hearts and the hearts of those we offer the gift of thanks to.