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As I’m sure many of you do, every year when I gather with my family for Thanksgiving we each take a turn before we eat, going around the table (or the room if the extended family is there too!) to say what each of us is thankful for. It is a simple and beautiful tradition, and one that can also produce some laughs (the uncle who is thankful for beer and football comes to mind), and sometimes it causes anxiety.
Honestly sharing our feelings with a group of people, even those who we are closest to, can be embarrassing or uncomfortable for some.
Personally, I’ve been a bit stressed for the past week just thinking about what I want to say I’m grateful for this year. Not that I have a problem myself with sharing—I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I did. No, I want to make sure I get it right. I mean, we only get one chance a year to get the spotlight and share like this and I want it to be a good one!
And then the absurdity of it hits me: I’m getting stressed out by trying to decide what I’m grateful for. Gratitude isn’t supposed to make you stressed—it is supposed to make you happy!
There have been many psychological studies and popular books written on gratitude during the past decade or so that all basically conclude the same thing: the common trait shared by happy people is gratitude. (If you search “Gratitude and Happiness,” you’ll find tons of these available online.) In what is called “positive psychology” research, studies show that expressing gratitude on a regular basis can actually improve one’s health as well as increase a person’s ability to have a positive outlook. Gratitude creates satisfaction. And having this positive outlook on life improves our ability to encounter adversity and stress in a healthy manner.
Yep, I was doing it all wrong. By only focusing on one thing to feel gratitude for on one day, I was creating stress. Instead, by being mindful and expressing gratitude regularly (daily!) we recognize the good in our lives that we are fortunate to have. Recognizing and expressing gratitude becomes an attitude and a way of living.
The Latin root of gratitude is gratia, which also means grace. Being gracious means being courteous and thoughtful to others. It means recognizing that often the source of good in our lives lies at least partially outside of ourselves. This source can be many things of course: family, work, nature, or a higher power. And, it can be charitable nonprofit organizations.
Nonprofit organizations—whether they are working towards improving the environment, or feeding the hungry, or rescuing a dog, or providing shelter during a disaster, or making the world more beautiful through the arts—have my gratitude. Charitable groups, such as PennFuture, do what few of us can do as individuals. By bringing together voices and our resources, nonprofits amplify our voices to have a collective impact. That is the amazing power of nonprofits, and why we support them. And why we should be grateful for them.
And as the Director of Development for PennFuture, I have the very wonderful job of graciously helping to connect supporters of environmental causes to the work that PennFuture does.
So, what am I going to say I’m grateful for on this Thanksgiving?
I’m grateful for my family and the love and support they give me.
I’m grateful for nonprofits that do the work that I can’t do as an individual.
I’m grateful for PennFuture for the work the amazing staff does to promote clean air, water, and energy in Pennsylvania.
I’m grateful for PennFuture for giving me the opportunity to share this work with others.
And I’m very grateful for you, for your support of PennFuture’s work. Because we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you!
But this Thanksgiving, I think I’m going to say that I’m most grateful that we have a national holiday to celebrate gratitude – and how it reminded me how important it is to be grateful every day. Gratitude as an attitude – live it every day!
And, Happy Thanksgiving!