This week many of us will be getting together for what most call Thanksgiving. For some it is about football. For others it’s about food and family. I’d like to suggest each of us spend a little extra energy, ensuring it is about being thankful.
There have been plenty of arguments about the history of Thanksgiving. Some argue vehemently we should not celebrate foreigners taking over native inhabitants’ land. Some argue the first Thanksgiving was in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, rather than in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. Some spend a lot of bitter energy, arguing the evils of Christopher Columbus as they have been taught by some who despise traditional American history.
Because it often stirs up negativity in others and causes people to redraw their dividing lines between them on these matters, I would like to steer the conversation in a different direction altogether. Why not? Aren’t we divided enough? Can’t we choose to be united on some things?
Sure, it’s quite trendy to divide ourselves. Some of the division is even calculated and planned for political, financial or personal reasons. Still, it doesn’t feel good or right to be so divided.
Whatever your beliefs about the history of Thanksgiving, this is a time of the year we set aside to be thankful. There will still be the football games and parades on television. There might even be some football games out in the yard or at local parks. Families will gather, and grand meals will be shared.
For some of us, it is a difficult time as is the whole holiday season. Whether there is one physically or not, there will be an empty chair or more at our gatherings. People who were always there aren’t there anymore, and that makes it so hard to celebrate anything. It’s just not the same.
Over many years of training and counseling, I’ve learned how we choose to think about things absolutely impacts how we feel, and that impacts the other choices we make. In the matter of missing people, during the holidays, we can choose to be thankful for the good memories we have made with them. After all, it’s so painful they’re gone because of the great memories. So, why not focus on those great memories with thankfulness? Instead of choosing to dwell on the sadness of their absence, we could choose to dwell on how great it was to have them with us all those other times.
Some people will be having a meal by themselves this Thanksgiving. People grow up, start their own families and no longer take the time to remember some of the older ones. Senior citizen couples and individuals know their families are busy or are too far away to see them on Thanksgiving Day, so they dine alone, and miss the good old days. These senior citizens could similarly choose to dwell on those great memories and be thankful, rather than be resentful they are not celebrating this year with their families.
It is hard for many of us to be very thankful this year, but we can choose to be. There are homeless families and individuals who struggle for feelings of thankfulness. There are incarcerated individuals who cannot even see anyone from their families on Thanksgiving Day. There are families who cannot pay the bills, and know even harder days are imminent. There are hospitalized people who have little time left on this earth. The list is long of people who have negative circumstances right now. No doubt, it can be hard to dwell on things for which we can be thankful. Yet, we can choose to do that.
Not only is it therapeutic to think more optimistically, it is practical. Choosing to be thankful is choosing to be positive. It is making a decision to dwell on better things, and this absolutely impacts feelings, and helps in better decision-making. How could this be a bad thing?
This Thanksgiving try this. Take a moment to tell people why you are thankful for them. Call somebody. Message somebody. Hand notes to people. Better yet, tell them to their face if you can.
While we’re at it, why not think of others who are struggling a lot this year? Do you know senior citizens who will be dining alone this Thanksgiving Day? Do you know others who just seem down this year? Do you know of some homeless people who will be spending Thanksgiving in the cold? Is there something more you could be doing to spread some holiday cheer – maybe even give others good reasons to be thankful?
Help spread joy and goodness this Thanksgiving by choosing to dwell on good things, rather than the bad things. Imagine what would happen if an increasing number of us go out of our way to make life better for others around us.
(Helpful Scriptures on Thanksgiving: Psalm 95:1-8a; 100:4-5; Ephesians 1:15-17; Colossians 3:14-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)