Years ago, I had the opportunity to attend an experiential training that was designed for individuals to get outside of themselves and to experience the power of a focused intention. Ten of us were given the assignment to create a Thanksgiving meal for a needy person or family out of nothing. “Out of nothing” meant that we could not spend our own money to provide the feast. We divided ourselves into groups and descended upon the public to accomplish this task. We had two hours to complete the assignment.
Some members of our group went to supermarkets in the area and explained our mission to store managers. Others just approached people on the street. The rest of us went door-to-door explaining our challenge and asking for donations of food.
Everyone was generous. The supermarkets offered up a turkey, potatoes, stuffing, rolls, pies, and anything else we wanted. On the street, people gave us cash donations to purchase what the stores didn’t provide. And in the neighborhoods, folks gave us a variety of can goods and other food stuffs that they had purchased for their own Thanksgiving celebration.
I had the opportunity to go with the group that went door-to-door. At one door a young mother came to the door with two small children. Because it was cold outside, she kindly invited us in to warm ourselves while we explained our mission. Excited at the prospect of participating, she took us to the kitchen to search for something that we could use.
When she opened her cupboard, there were only three cans to be found: a can of condensed milk, green beans, and some stew. We opted for the green beans. Being somewhat startled by the lack of food, I asked her why there was so little in the cupboard. She explained that she was recently divorced and that she was waiting for her alimony check that was supposed to come any day. I tried to talk her out of participating, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
She exclaimed, “There are certainly more people out there who are needier than me!” she exclaimed. We took the green beans and exited her home. Outside we all just looked at each other, and we knew who our needy family would be.
We met up with the rest of our group about a half hour later and explained what had happened. We made one last run to the grocery store to buy a few things that we needed and then returned to her home. When she answered the door bell, she asked, “Did you forget something?” Laughingly we said, “We just came by to bring you all of this.” At that moment the team members, who had been hiding in her bushes, burst upon the scene with armloads of food. She started crying and so did we. We filled all of her cupboards and the fridge and had about $400 dollars in cash that we gave her. We left her home filled with the spirit that warms the heart and increases a deeper love for humanity.
The word “thanksgiving” seems to encompass a number of different ideas. “Thanks” would suggest that either we feel thankful for those gifts, opportunities, or blessings that have come our way or that we express thanks to others for what they have given us. “Giving” seems to imply that either you are giving something to others or that others are giving something to you. The combination of both words implies that there is an expression or feeling of gratitude for what is given or that something is given as an expression of gratitude to us. In either case, there is an “outflow” that in turn is multiplied with a significantly increased inflow.
So What Can You Do?
I hope that you get that the operative word is “do.” Here are a number of questions that you might answer for yourself as you attempt to increase your own sense of gratitude in this thanksgiving season.
What do you have? Taking a quick inventory of your life and writing down all that is yours is a great way of seeing what often goes unseen. We all take things for granted, and we just don’t often take a moment in the frantic pace of our own lives to notice the things, the people, the situations, the opportunities, or the blessings that are ours. Sometimes even the greatest challenge you are currently experiencing is really a great learning opportunity in disguise. Notice what you usually don’t notice.
What are you doing or what will you do? Because conversation includes not only what we say, but also everything we do, you have an opportunity to do or say something. However, you need to decide what you want to do that might deliberately improve your results, relationships or respect. If you are not satisfied in any of the previously mentioned areas, your dissatisfaction is the key to your improved success. Be clear in your intent, decide what to do, make a plan, and then execute the plan.
Who needs your appreciation? Years ago when I went out of my way to thank my wife for something, she stopped, looked at me, and asked, “Are you sick?” That’s when I knew that I had to do a better job of going out of my way to express gratitude for all that she does. Certainly there are some people at work or others who may make a contribution to your life in some small way that you could recognize. Many people go unnoticed or unrecognized for the hard work that they do. You could take such people aside and express your appreciation for their contributions. Deliberately and specifically express your appreciation to and for others.
Do you want to make a difference? There are ample opportunities to do something for others that will make a difference. While away from home on a business trip, I sat alone in a restaurant eating dinner. When I finished eating, the waiter approached me and told me that someone in the dining room had paid for my meal. When I asked who had done such a kindness, he wryly refused to tell me. I was touched that someone would go out of their way to do something like that for someone they didn’t know. That experience made me look for opportunities to return the favor to someone else. Look for opportunities to make a difference.
What could you give? You have many things you could give to another person: your time, a smile, or a kind word cost nothing in terms of monetary terms. Offering support or encouragement to those who are struggling in some way will mean a lot to the person because it says, “I noticed” and, “I care enough to do or say something.” If you want to give a gift simply think about what a person might truly enjoy or appreciate. Be sincere and trust your heart in offering something that would be meaningful to them.
Are you ready to be uncomfortable? Getting outside of what is normally quite comfortable can be difficult for some people. Accept that you might feel awkward and don’t let your negative feelings or the thoughts that might arise keep you from doing something that will pay bigger returns. Stay committed and don’t let you, deter yourself.
With all the negativity that we hear or experience of religious intolerance, political unrest, poor business practices, racial indifference, or within our personal relationships, could we not do more to improve the human condition? We need to step up and do something to improve the quality of life we experience. Doing so, lifts others and ourselves. Although Thanksgiving is a US holiday, we could all express our thanks for that which others give us, and we could go out of our way to give something to others. I hope you will take the time this holiday season to do just that.