Be Thankful By Giving

The Thanksgiving weekend is over and though I battered my body with enough food for a month, I’m still happy to have the chance to spend the holiday weekend with family and friends. Based on what I saw from my Facebook friends, most people were truly “thankful” for the chance to gather with friends and family and take the opportunity to truly reflect on the bounty of their lives.

But many people also posted sad and melancholy thoughts about missing family members that have passed on or were far away or any number of circumstances (physical or emotional) that separate friends and family. The fact is, though the holidays are supposed to be joyful and happy, its also the time of the year when people are the most unhappy, sad, sentimental and depressed. The emotional pain that many people feel is evidenced by the annual spike in suicide rates between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Though Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to “give thanks” for what you have, unfortunately, its also the time of the year when people focus on what they “don’t have.” And once you start to focus on what’s missing from your life (not enough love, not enough money, job they hate, people they miss), it starts a vicious downward spiral that makes people absolutely hate the holiday season.

I think the real meaning of Thanksgiving is not to just “give thanks” but also to be “thankful by giving.” My sister-in-law Liz recently lost her grand-daughter in a tragic car accident and it would have been easy to just spend Thanksgiving consumed by that loss. But she chose to make Thanksgiving dinner for several young servicemen and women, all friends of her daughter-in-law, who is on active duty in the Air Force. Though it doesn’t take Liz’s pain away, it gives her an opportunity to actively work through her grief by “giving of herself to others.”

Our family doesn’t really gather together for the holidays since my Mom passed away two years ago. We all live on different islands and find it difficult just to get our own families together. I know my youngest brother, Bernie really misses my Mom and Dad during the holidays, but this year, he chose to spend time with my niece Francine, who is locked in a serious battle with cancer. I know that act of “giving” really helped him to overcome his personal sadness over the loss of our parents.

We have so much “personal power” to help affect the mind-set of others who may be sad or depressed over the holidays. A call, a visit, a card, even a simple text message does wonders for the recipient but REAL benefit comes to the “giver”who gets a chance to connect with that part inside of us believes that we are good and kind and that we really do care about things beyond just ourselves. It’s a wonderful opportunity to depart from our normal “what am I getting out of this” thinking and elevate to the “what am I becoming” thinking that helps us to see that we can generate happiness within ourselves and spread it so easily to others.

And we can do this despite whatever circumstances may be going in our lives. Giving thanks for everything we have is awesome, but we give ourselves a gift that will continue to help us grow and mature as people when we pay that gratitude forward to others in need.