During the six years that I lived in Austria, Germany and Spain, Thanksgiving was the holiday that I missed the most. The only one that really made me homesick. It’s easy to take issue with many aspects of the holiday, but if you look at the true spirit of sharing and being grateful, it’s simply wonderful.
For many of us Americans, Thanksgiving is a reminder of the importance of family, friends, and community. Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert has spent his whole life studying happiness, and sums it up this way:
“We are happy when we have family.
And we are happy when we have friends.
And almost all the other things we THINK make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.”
Similarly, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California – Riverside, wrote in her outstanding book The How of Happiness that “The happiest participants in our studies…are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.” She then went on to list other factors in happiness, including that the happiest people “are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g. fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children deeply held values.)”
In other words, people are happy when they have Purpose. Meaning. “Work” that they care about, for whatever reason they want to assign to it. Or, as Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, “If a man knows the ‘why’ of his existence, he will be able to bear almost any ‘how’.”
In my “Happiness Workshop: Find Your Pleasure, Purpose and Peace”, one of the writing and discussion exercises which participants do is to answer this question:
“Imagine you died TODAY. How would you feel about the work you did, in terms of compensation, lifestyle, impact, and meaning to you?”
I like to ask this, because it forces you to face your own mortality. (We are all going to die some day, in case you needed reminding ; – ). It forces you to think about your legacy. And it forces you to think about the “work” you do, however you want to define “work”.
Thanksgiving is a national holiday, meaning that most of us Americans don’t have to work on that day. And my gratitude to those of us, such as hospital workers, peace officers, military people, firefighters, transit workers, and grocery store employees who DO work on that day!
But right now I’d like to ask you…
What are you grateful for, about your work?
Go ahead! Take a piece of paper and a pen, or start writing an email to yourself. Start with “What I’m grateful for about my work is…”
Here are some ideas:
If you have a formal employer…
You get paid for the work you do.
You might get paid really well.
You might get paid even more than you really deserve.
You learn and develop your skills as you advance your career. You get to be creative, analytical, and efficient.
You learn to communicate better.
You have clients and colleagues, whom you get to meet. Some of them might become your friends. Some of them will be friends for the rest of your life, regardless of where you work.
You might fall in love with someone your meet through work. You might get married and have children some day. All of this is a result of you “taking a job” somewhere.
You get to have an impact in the work you do. Maybe you build, repair, or manufacture things. Maybe you do analysis or give advice which helps others. Maybe you teach, train, or instruct people, and share lessons which can help others for decades into the future. Maybe you feed, entertain, or take care of the health of others. Maybe you help others make important buying decisions regarding products or services. Maybe you’re part of a political movement to ensure more justice and opportunity. Maybe you make things beautiful.
If you to commute to work…
Your commute gives you a chance to listen to music, talk radio or podcasts. Read, see lots of other people, get outdoors, sleep, do affirmations, pray, or think about life.
You get to work in an office which might have better views, better design, better food, a better health club, better heating and better air conditioning than your own home.
If you work from home…
You don’t have to deal with a god-awful commute! Less likely that you’ll die in a car crash on the freeway. Money saved in gasoline, car costs and insurance. And less carbon footprint so as to slow the inconvenient truth of climate change.
You have a lot more flexiblity regarding when you work, how you work, how you look, and what you wear.
You can eat better at home, save on food costs, and not waste money on overpriced, addictive caffeine drinks.
You might have a lot more freedom to fit your schedule to accommodate your partner’s or children’s schedules.
If you are unemployed, underemployed, or in transition…
You might actually be able to enjoy a lot more free time than you would normally have, and take care of your diet, health, and relationships.
You have an opportunity to re-evaluate what sort of work you find truly rewarding and right for you.
And once you find good employment, you’ll be more grateful for having that job.
If you are a stay-at-home mom or dad…
You do probably the most important work in our society — loving and caring for our youngest, most innocent, and most dependent people. This is often a very thankless job. So at this time of Thanksgiving, it’s time to give thanks to the moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends who keep our children safe and happy.
At the same time…
You get to be around and see your children as they grow.
You have the joy of hearing their first words, seeing their first steps, and experiencing so many other “firsts”.
You put in the extremely hard work, but also experience the enormous joy which comes from raising children.
And some day — maybe — you’ll hear your children say “Thanks for everything you did!”
Is it naive or silly to be grateful for so many things, big and small?
Some grouchy, cranky, cynical people would say “yes”.
But I say “no”.
Gratitude does not mean closing your eyes to the challenges and injustices in your world. Rather, it allows you to be happy in the present moment — focused, energized, appreciative, and ready to fight for what’s right.
Thanks to you for making our world a more wonderful place!
[Photo courtesy of Pierrick Le Cumff for UNSPLASH]