Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 29, 2013

The gift that keeps giving


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — It may be trite, yet it remains worthy of consideration the day after Thanksgiving: What are you still thankful for? We shouldn’t only set aside one day to be grateful for the material good things or experiences and people in our life. Should appreciation come with a 24-hour time limit?

It would be easy to ignore thankfulness after the last dish is washed, the turkey leftovers and stuffing are stuffed in the fridge, and we are slipping on comfortable shoes to enter the bargain hunting competition known as The Official Kickoff of the Holiday Shopping Season. It would be easy in the swirl of “Merry Stressmas” to be focused on wants or, even, needs.

Maybe we don’t have to concern ourselves with being grateful until next year when we are pushing a grocery cart full of cranberries, pumpkin pie, rolls and turkey through a crowded market. Maybe it’s time now to think about what we don’t have — what holiday decorations need replacing, what well-selected and thoughtful gifts we need for Aunt Myrtle and Uncle George, and how much money we need to fund our gift-giving budget. It is easy to get wrapped up immediately by the buying and wrapping Christmas season, while Thanksgiving is only a bloated memory, thinking about what we want rather than what we are so fortunate to already have.

Beyond the superficial, maybe we are more concerned with what is missing in our lives or what we’ve lost. Maybe we are thinking more about how things would be “better if...” rather than thinking about we are “thankful for...” A lost job or loved one, a crumbling marriage, an unexpected move, a serious illness — we could easily think about what is wrong in life rather than be grateful for what is right. We may deserve for our appreciation on Thursday to have an expiration date that starts Black Friday.

However, thankfulness is a gift that, to be trite again, keeps on giving. If we practice being grateful, we will have a more positive and hopeful outlook on life — even when we face natural and inescapable difficulties, hurts, and disappointments. If we exercise appreciation in front of our children, it may result in their improved self-esteem or positive outlook on life, and maybe even a more loving and compassionate relationship within the family. If we remember to express our admiration to friends and acquaintances — or even the skills or ability of a stranger with whom we do business or cross paths - we are leaving affirmation in our wake rather than world-weary negativity.

Countless studies have been done on the positive impact of thankfulness. One commonly reported study was done by two psychologists, one from the University of California, Davis, and another from the University of Miami, who have done extensive research on gratitude. In one experiment, they had participants write a few sentences each week —one group wrote about what they were grateful for that week, a second wrote about what irritated them, and a third group wrote objectively (no negative or positive assessment) about events that affected them. Ten weeks later, those who wrote from a position of gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about the upcoming week. Another study done at the University of Pennsylvania suggested that writing a thank you letter for the first time to someone who had a significant positive impact on the individual’s life resulted in a boost in “happiness scores” that lasted more than a month.

Practicing thankfulness year-round may increase our mental and emotional wellbeing, it may endow our children with the same nourishing outlook and inspire another generation, and it may simply make our little corner of the world a happier place to live. Being thankful can actually change your life.

So, the question remains: What are you still thankful for? Life and breath? Loved ones? A new job or an “A” in Biology class?

No matter how basic or complicated, whatever we can feel grateful for, we should feel it 365 days a year. Just because we now progress past the pilgrim’s holiday, let’s not forget the sentiment beyond the bird, the pigskin competitions, and the gigantic balloon parade.

Continue to express thankfulness through Christmas and Hanukkah, into the New Year, and through the rest of the calendar until the next Thanksgiving Thursday.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.