Growing up outside of North America, the traditional Thanksgiving day was not something often celebrated in my home or community. The pumpkin pie versus apple pie, or turkey versus ham, or sweet potatoes versus mashed potatoes debates were meaningless to me. Equally foreign to me were the hours of either playing or watching American football after the meal, or the time spent searching store ads for the best deals on the ironically timed biggest shopping day of the year the next day, or the agony of eating turkey 653 ways for the next 7 days. While I learned very little about the traditions and celebrations of this particular holiday, I learned quite a lot about being thankful.
When I think of Thanksgiving, I do not associate it with the aforementioned things. I think of my mother. With my mom, gratitude, not cleanliness, was next to Godliness. The worst sin you could commit in her house was to be ungrateful, something I was an awful lot as a child. So much so, that by my 4th grade year she decided drastic measures were required. With plenty of advance warning to curb my ungrateful ways, she explained to my sister and me that if we did not start to say “thank you,” we would be making all of our own meals for 4 days. Being the brilliant, angelic child that I was (cough, cough), I called what was obviously my mother’s biggest bluff yet (ignoring the fact that my mother never bluffed). I kept my “thank yous” sealed in the vault of an otherwise big mouth. Surprisingly to no one but me, that evening I was told that starting tomorrow, we would be cooking all our own food for the rest of the week. As usual, my sister suffered the consequences of my stupidity. And so began one of my greatest lessons learned. Over the course of the next few days, my sister and I ate some truly disgusting food, missed one pretty sweet dinner out, and bonded over our mutual suffering. We also learned to be loose and free with the “thank yous” and are better people for it.
I would argue that there are very few other things one human can do for another that are as mutually beneficial as expressing genuine gratitude. Cultivating habitual expressions of thankfulness changes how you, personally, see the world and the people in it. But, more than just effecting you, it also changes the experiences of those around you. The “hold the door” scenario turns from being an awkward obligation to a kind human connection when a “thank you” is given. The “stop at a parking lot entrance to let someone in” scenario turns from annoyance boarding on road rage to a kind human connection when a nod and an overly articulated silent “thank you” is given. The “I have something I need to say to you” turns from being a friendship straining incident to a kind human connection when a “thank you for caring enough to tell me this” is given.
As we, here in the United States, start preparing for Thanksgiving next week, I am not only mindful of all the things in my life to be thankful for, I am also reminded to continue forming the habit of communicating gratitude everyday. And reminded to make sure my children do the same. Here are some books to help with just that:
May our “thank yous” be as free flowing as the ice cream on our pie!