The other day, my bride and I received a gift which caught us off guard, but brought a smile to our faces and warmth to our hearts.
Outside our front door was a basket covered in orange and black paper. It was filled with all sorts of little gifts – little decorations like a small scarecrow, a pumpkin ornament of sorts, some Halloween napkins, and – oh yes, there was some candy in there too!
Along with the basket there was an unsigned Halloween card wishing us a happy Halloween, but also urging us with the following hand-written message: “You’ve now been BOO’d. Now make your own basket of goodies and pass it on.”
That little surprising gesture of neighborly love and appreciation brought my immediate thoughts to my favorite holiday of the year – and it is NOT Halloween!
Thanksgiving is about a month away now! For me Thanksgiving is absolutely THE most enjoyable holidays of the year. It is generally the one holiday that does not require a plethora of extra preparations for special church services and sermons and cantatas and the like. It is a time when we can enjoy family, friends, and food, and is a time when I get to share the food responsibilities with my bride!
But Thanksgiving is also a time when – and this is precisely why it is my favorite – we can all openly and proudly express to those around the table exactly those things and people for what and for whom we have been most thankful during the past year.
This is a biblical concept – I really do not need to explain it, do I?
The Apostle Paul repeatedly in his letters expressed his thanks for the people in his life. For one example, in Philippians 1:2-34 he said: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy.”
His heart was filled to overflowing with thanks, and at the same time, prayer for the people for whom he was thankful!
A quarter-century ago, a middle-aged pastor and writer named William Stidger was reflecting on his gratitude for a teacher he had in his youth who’d introduced him to great literature and sparked a love for the written word that had helped prepare him for his future vocations.
Realizing he had never thanked her for the way she had touched his life, he decided to “atone” for this omission, and that very night penned her a handwritten letter of thanks. Just a few days later, he received a reply; written in shaky scrawl, it read:
“My Dear Willie, I am now an old lady in my 80’s, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and seemingly like the last leaf of fall left behind. You will be interested to know, Willie, that I taught school for 50 years and, in all that time, yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning, and it cheered my lonely old heart as nothing has cheered me in many years.”
About a year ago, I received a notice on one of my social media accounts that my sixth-grade teacher, a wonderful lady by the name of Irene Lloyd, was celebrating her 97th birthday, and her son was asking for friends to send her 97 birthday cards. I did write her a note! A few days before her birthday, he reported she had received over 500 such cards!
Shawn Achor, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard, suggests that we can train our brains to become more grateful by setting aside just five minutes a day for practicing gratitude. He cites a one-week study in which people were asked to take five minutes a day, at the same time every day, to write down three things they were thankful for.
They didn’t have to be big things, but they had to be concrete and specific, such as, “I’m thankful for the delicious Thai take-out dinner I had last night.” Or, “I’m thankful that my daughter gave me a hug.” Or, “I’m thankful that my boss complimented my work.”
The participants simply expressed thanks for three specific things at the same time every day.
At the end of one month, the researchers followed up and found that those who practiced gratitude — including those who stopped the exercise after one week — were happier and less depressed.
Remarkably, after three months, the participants who had been part of the one-week experiment were still more joyful and content.
Incredibly, after the six-month mark, they were still happier, less anxious, and less depressed.
The researchers hypothesized that the simple practice of writing down three thanksgivings a day over the course of a week primed the participants’ minds to search for the good in their lives.
One of the reasons I am writing about Thanksgiving a month early is to give you a heads up about the holiday and to encourage each of us – me included! – to take the time to write a special note of thanks to someone, or some people, who have meant the world to us.
From personal experience, I can tell you your pastor loves to get those words of encouragement! Once I have completed writing these words and sent them to the editors of the papers which graciously publish them, I fully intend to sit down and write a few of those notes myself to people for whom I am truly thankful.
What about you?
Whether it is simply writing down three things for which you are thankful each day, or actually dropping a note to someone for whom you are thankful, or even putting together a “BOO” basket for a close friend or neighbor, those gestures will indeed increase your “Gratitude Quotient”!
By the way, we DID make a basket for another neighbor!
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Hillsboro Times-Gazette and the Wilmington News Journal. He is also the former Pastor of Faith Community Church in Hillsboro and Port William UMC.