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What Does it Mean to Be Thankful?

Updated on January 9, 2015
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Oh, the Irony

The irony surrounding the American Thanksgiving tradition never ceases to amaze me. We spend a day stuffing our faces with our family (which we often can't stand to be around), watch TV, argue over football games and spend very little time actually being thankful for anything at all. Then, as soon as the turkey coma starts to abate, we rush outside and spend hours fighting and clawing our way to purchase black Friday deals in a mad dash to acquire all of the things that we want that we don't yet have - immediately following a day supposed to be devoted to our gratefulness for all the things that we do.

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Consider the Options

Do you plan on doing something for others during this Holiday season?

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What Does Being Thankful Mean?

Thankfulness is a state of being that should not be reserved for one day out of the year. It is a way of life. We all want lots of things that we don't have. It's part of the nature of living in a culture of want. We all feel the need to keep up with our neighbors, our coworkers and our friends, and "keeping up with the Jones'" is an American tradition. With technological advances happening constantly, the need to purchase the latest and greatest seems great at first - until you realize that you can never truly be at the top for long. As soon as you purchase the latest smartphone or tablet or computer, something new comes along in a simple matter of months - or even weeks. It's a headlong rush off of the cliffs of greed - and it costs a lot more than money.


Being thankful for what you have is almost a lost art form, and it's one that the majority of Americans would do well to take the time and remember. It's hard to focus on everything that you have, rather than stockpiling a list of everything that you want instead. It seems to defy the American Spirit, and it's a very difficult habit to overcome. Yet we in this country have more than we even take the time to realize on a daily basis - and so many others world-wide are struggling. While we worry about upgrading our phones, buying a new car or fighting over the perfect restaurant to take the family for a special night out, millions of people worldwide are wondering where their next scrap of food will come from - or if they'll have enough clean water to drink to allow them to survive another day. It's easy to put these people out of mind on a daily basis. When you really take the time to think about it, however, it hits you hard - and it's not a lesson that is easy to forget.

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Be Gracious - and Grateful

While most middle class Americans don't constantly have to worry about where their next meal will come from, many Americans are struggling a lot harder just to survive. As the economy continues to ebb and flow, many people are still struggling to recover from the initial nose dive. Many are out of work. Many are wondering if they'll have enough money to continue to stay in their homes - and many more have lost their homes and their livelihood altogether. It's easy to put these people out of sight and out of mind, but ignoring the problem speaks volumes about what we as Americans are willing and able to overlook - or blatantly ignore.

Instead of rushing out to spend your time, energy and money elbowing complete strangers out of the way to purchase the gigantic television set that you've been salivating over, take a moment to pause and consider others. You don't have to give up all of your comforts in order to be truly thankful - or gracious towards the needs and feelings of others. Instead of rattling off the same old list of things that you're thankful for just until you can dig into the feast set out in front of you, take the time to think of things that normally wouldn't make your list. Think of what you have - not what you lack - and take a moment to consider that many other people are lacking the comforts that you enjoy (and take for granted) on a daily basis. Remember for just a moment that not everyone is fortunate enough to have enough money to afford a turkey dinner. Remember that some people have lost their families - or that some loved ones are conspicuously absent due to a death in the family. Others are missing members currently serving overseas in the military - risking their lives to stand up for the freedoms that we often take for granted. Instead of simply brushing these uncomfortable thoughts aside, devote a few minutes to thinking about them. Then, maybe, you'll understand even a fraction of what being truly thankful really means - and you may even feel compelled enough to do something - even something small - that can make a considerable and meaningful difference in the life of someone less fortunate.

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Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Although it's easy to forget to be grateful during the ups and downs of every day life, the holiday season is often capable of putting things into perspective in real, meaningful ways - and can often inspire others to step up and make a discernible difference in the lives of their family, friends and even strangers.

Giving back doesn't have to be a drag. It can be fun - and it can be a task that the whole family can enjoy. These ideas can make a big difference in someone's lives and make a real, memorable difference in their lives - and make a positive impression on your life as well.

1. Invite a guest to dinner.
We all know friends, coworkers or acquaintances who live far away from their families or are estranged from their relatives. Instead of sitting at home alone for the holidays, extend the invitation to join you and your loved ones for a holiday feast. Let them feel included in something bigger, and make them feel welcomed and accepted. It's hard to be alone for the holidays - I know from experience. Being invited to a friends' house to share a meal made a real impact on me, and I try to return the favor whenever possible.

2. Consider donating your time
It's easy for some to consider donating money to feed a needy family during the holiday season - but how many of us are willing to donate our time to help out first-hand? Many shelters and soup kitchens are in desperate need for volunteers constantly, and being willing to donate your time to serve others, prepare food, clean up or go out on deliveries can make a real impact.

3. Practice Kindness
It doesn't take much effort at all to extend a smile and helpful hand to a complete stranger. It doesn't cut into our days or make us miss out on something that we need. Instead of rushing to get all your shopping done with no concern for your fellow shoppers, take a moment to think about how your actions reflect on humanity as a whole - and demonstrate that you're willing to be the change that you're looking to see in the world at large. Be kind. Say please and thank you. Be polite, even under stress. While many get grumpy, irritated and annoyed at the stress during the holiday season, be appreciative to the people you encounter. Remember that the cashiers, waitresses and staff are all being denied the opportunity to spend times with their families due to their need to work and support those families, and go out of your way to make it clear that their efforts are appreciated - even more so than usual.

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In Closing

As we begin this year's festivities, remember that your actions, attitudes and thoughts can have a real impact on other people that you interact with - and you never know who's watching or paying attention. Spend an extra moment or two in between dinner and desert recognizing how much you truly have instead of all the things that you don't. Be kind when interacting with others - and give yourself a chance to breathe. Happy Holidays, from my family to yours - and remember to be grateful more often than not.

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      Mklow1 3 years ago

      Fantastic article and some great words to live by. As I have gotten older, I have re-evaluated celebrations and reconsidered how I perceive them and also how I celebrate them. I have even considered letting the new found contemplation leak into other days and aspects of my life. Thumbs up.

    • JMcFarland profile image
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      Julie McFarland 3 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      well, well. I guess the search for common ground was not arbitrarily worthless after all. Thank you for your feedback.

    • profile image

      Mklow1 3 years ago

      common ground is never too far away ; )

    • JMcFarland profile image
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      Julie McFarland 3 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      Seems like you have had a change of heart from our recent exchange in the question and answer section. Impressive.

    • profile image

      Mklow1 3 years ago

      Not really. I just call things like I see it. If I agree, I will let you know, if not, the same.

      I have always thought you are a very talented writer and a very intelligent person, even if I don't always see eye to eye with you. All of your articles are well written, but this one resonated with me. Thank you for that.

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