Penny Cook, President & CEO, Pioneer Network
What comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving? Family, friends, turkey, pie, football, travel, Black Friday, Christmas decorating (that’s true for some people!)?
This coming Thursday, those of us in the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. The US is not alone in having a day dedicated to giving thanks. Many countries around the world share this tradition. Our friends and neighbors in Canada, for instance, celebrated Thanksgiving Day on October 8.
In the US, Thanksgiving began as an annual celebration of a bountiful harvest in 1789 and most likely did not have that name at its origin. As decades went by, the tradition turned into a holiday in some states, but it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863 that it became an annual event in November. There’s some controversy around Thanksgiving as there are around many created holidays but no matter the origin, no matter the history, how often are we encouraged to surround ourselves with people we love and care about to share a meal and true quality time? How often are we encouraged to take a deep breath and be grateful? Not enough.
I recently had lunch with a colleague who retired from a lengthy career as a nurse, surveyor and educator. Like many people I’ve seen who have left their 40 plus hour/week position, she looked so rested and relaxed. You could see it in her eyes, her face, and her shoulders. She told me that after a few months she began looking for a part-time position which she quickly found, and she began volunteering for an organization that she has always been interested in but hasn’t had the time to commit. She is spending more time with her husband and they’re loving the freedom to decide what the day will look like. And she is no longer getting up at 4 AM but rather sleeping until she’s rested, never using an alarm.
The first thing she said to me was how grateful she was. She named all the things in her career that she felt blessed by and most of all, the colleagues that turned into friends, and how thankful she is to have this next life chapter. Then she mentioned the daily moments she’s noticed, and she said that seldom did she take the time to acknowledge them until now. She believes that gratitude has helped her with the life transition into retirement and she questioned why she didn’t focus on it more throughout her career. We laughed and said that maybe she was just too tired to even think about it, that maybe when we’re drained from all that happens in our day-to-day life, we cannot find the time to be grateful.
There have been studies done on how gratitude improves our physical and mental health, enhances empathy, expands self-esteem and even helps us sleep better. We’ve probably all heard it before, develop an “attitude of gratitude.”
So, this Thursday we have a day that’s dedicated to giving thanks. Many of us will not be working and instead spending time with friends and family. Hopefully we can put our devices away and be present and in the moment with those around us, and maybe we can share those things for which we are grateful. Some of you may be going into someone else’s home this Thanksgiving, the home of the residents you partner with to care and support. I hope that you and the community of Elders can share what you’re thankful for, possibly in individual interactions and with a small group of people.
It’s simple the day of Thanksgiving. The 24-hour news cycle, emails, postal mail, and even social media slow down for us. It’s easier for us to disconnect and focus on gratitude. The challenge is how to extend that time and incorporate thanks into our lives the next day and beyond. It takes intention. It takes planning. Here are some ideas, you’ve probably heard some of them before, but it often takes repetition for us to act.
- Keep a pad of paper and pen by your bed. Write down three things you’re grateful for as soon as you get up. The first might be that you actually woke up! If this is too much, do it before you fall asleep.
- As you’re brushing your teeth, think about what might bring you gratitude throughout the day ahead. You may not be looking forward to your day, but what is one thing?
- Going to a meeting? Suggest that during introductions everyone says one thing they are grateful for.
- Annoyed, frustrated or angry about something that happens? Replace that feeling or event with one thing for which you are thankful.
- Dinner with your children? Ask them what they can gives thanks for today.
We can cultivate gratitude. We can make it happen in our lives and spread that to others not just one day a year, but every day.
On behalf of the team at Pioneer Network, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving and may that feeling of gratitude last for days to come…or at least through Friday!