gratitude sign and rusty wall

Photo: shannonkringen.

With the world’s climate frying from greenhouse gas emissions and the economy teetering from runaway greed, Thanksgiving can seem like another trumped-up mainstream holiday to distract Americans from real problems.

Even if the world weren’t in serious trouble, what’s there to be thankful for at Thanksgiving — Backed up freeways and delayed flights? Grumpy in-laws in the guest room? Having to wash 16 casserole dishes after dinner while struggling against a turkey coma?

Not to mention “Here Comes Santa Claus” playing in every third elevator.

And if you want to go back to the history, there’s also that whole messy Pilgrim-Indian thing.

Gratitude is never bogus

Thanksgiving is supposed to be about gratitude. And smarter people than me have already figured out that there’s a powerful emotional and spiritual benefit from the practice of giving thanks. Especially in a dark age, living well requires more than ever that we appreciate the gifts of this life.

For me, that’s a stream flowing over mossy stones. Snow blanketing a city park. The cool crunch of raw kohlrabi.

Only the gentleness that comes from seeing the beauty in good things will give us the calm strength to do what needs to be done. Even if that means doing nothing and just being.

As St. Francis de Sales said, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”

Thanksgiving Facts infographic

FDR used Thanksgiving as a stimulus program during the Depression. This and other fun facts courtesy of an infographic from Collision Labs.

So, since we happen to have Thanksgiving already printed on all our calendars and most of us have the day off from work, why not take the opportunity to try out a little gratitude practice? It might just rub off into our lives during the rest of the year.

As Maya Angelou says, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”

To take back Thanksgiving, I offer a few simple things to avoid and a few others to embrace.

Avoid these gratitude killers

  1. Shopping on Black Friday — Instead, start the holidays off on a non-materialistic note by celebrating Buy Nothing Day.
  2. Shopping on Thanksgiving day itself — Don’t let really low prices suck you into this horrible new trend that deprives retail employees of their day off.
  3. Eating too much — Not only will you regret it later, but there’s no better way to make food look cheap or unimportant than to gorge on it. Eat breakfast and use a smaller plate.
  4. If you’re a host, serving industrial turkey — It’s not just about the hormones in the meat or the cruelty of factory farming operations. It’s also about voting with your dollars for the kind of food system you really want. Find the most humane and healthy turkey available near you.
  5. If you’re a guest, being a picky eater — We get it that you’re a vegan. But eaters of all stripes might take a hint from the Buddhist monks who beg for their food daily, accepting whatever is given as a spiritual practice of non-attachment. And that includes industrial turkey. At least for one meal a year.

Embrace these gratitude helpers

  1. Say grace before your meal — Even nonbelievers can offer thanks for the people and animals who made the meal possible.
  2. Put yourself in their shoes — Think of someone who you can’t get along with or don’t like. Even people who are destroying the earth like the Koch Brothers. Then, imagine yourself in their position. Try to see the world through their eyes. You may still not agree with them. But maybe you won’t have to waste so much energy hating them either.
  3. Give some love to your stuff — Dust off a favorite old painting or lamp or shine a well worn pair of shoes to remind yourself of why you got them in the first place and appreciate the beauty and good services they’ve given you. Remember the many hands that brought these things to you. And, in our time of peak oil, offer thanks for the wood, metal and even fossil fuels that went into these objects.
  4. Spend time in nature — In a world of climate change, appreciate the gift of cold weather if you have it. “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet,” as Thich Nhat Hanh says.
  5. Thank an activist — Even if you think activism is bunk because near-term human extinction is inevitable, you have to admire the pluck of people who leave their comfort zone and give up some of the comforts of private life to speak up for things that won’t earn them any money. Activists for the environment, social justice and personal freedom show courage in the face of strong men and perseverance in the face of long odds. Giving some props to your favorite campaigner might make you a little less cynical too.