We celebrate Thanksgiving once each year to show appreciation and gratitude for whatever blessings we have. But, for many people, Thanksgiving is simply another meaningless holiday where the focus is on overeating, spending time with family, and watching a football game. What if we took Thanksgiving seriously? What if we really gave thanks? What if we treated every day as a day to give thanks?
It’s interesting that in other parts of the world—and in a variety of religious traditions—giving thanks is an important tradition. I remember my own Catholic childhood every meal was an opportunity for giving thanks. We said “Grace” before meals, giving thanks for our “daily bread.” The word “Eucharist” means 'thanksgiving' and, for Christians, it is possible to receive this sacrament daily if one chooses. Observant Jews have daily prayers of reverence and thanks. In Judaism, saying prayers over meals is known as birkat hamazon, which gives thanks and asks for blessings for food, land, Jerusalem, and God’s goodness. Muslims have daily obligations and prayers that also show reverence and appreciation. In Iran there is Noruz (thanksgiving for the new year), Mehregan (thanksgiving for love and justice), Tirgan (thanksgiving for water), Azargan (thanksgiving for fire), Sepandgan or Espandgan (thanksgiving for women). In fact, Espandgan was influenced by Zoroastrism, which predated Islam. In Korea they celebrate Chuseok, honoring ancestors and celebrating the harvest as they give thanks. So, giving thanks precedes Islam. And giving thanks is part of every culture, every religion.
Several years ago I gave a lecture at an international conference in Greece. One of the psychiatrists in the audience came up to me after and gave me a gift-wrapped book. I told him “Thank you for this thoughtful gift.” And he replied, “No, thank you for accepting my gift.” I will never forget that—he thanked me for accepting his kindness. It was one of the most meaningful gifts that I have ever received.
We give thanks in everyday life when we say, “Thank you.” Often it is automatic, without thought or feeling, without any real meaning to us.
How often do we stand back and reflect on what we have to be grateful for? How often do we contact a friend and tell them that we are truly fortunate to have them in our lives?
Imagine if you made every day a day of giving thanks. You could start the day with a short mindful contemplation of appreciation for someone or something. It could be a reflection on your partner, your children, your friends, your teachers, your heroes. You could give thanks for being able to walk, to taste food, to hear music. Begin each day with gratitude and appreciation and carry this forward for an entire month. Ten minutes each day can make a world of difference.
Say “Thank you” to ten people every day. And when you say “Thank you”, label the behavior that you are grateful for. For example, tell your kid that you thank them for cleaning up, tell a co-worker that you thank them for helping out, or tell the delivery person thank you for coming. If you have a dog or cat, thank them and touch them and feel the love that comes back to you.
Giving thanks may be the best gift that you can give to others—and to yourself. And, like the best things in life, it’s free.