With Thanksgiving just around the corner, 'tis the season to feel grateful and share our gratitude around. To be grateful for things, big or small is a key ingredient in creating more joy in our lives because happiness is less about circumstances and more about attitude.
Ever notice how much some people love to talk about the bad stuff? They freely share stories of a negative experience at a restaurant, a fight they had with a family member, a tough day at work. Of course, we all need to vent our frustrations occasionally. Especially right now in the midst of a pandemic that has made even a simple walk in the neighbourhood park more frightening than current world politics.
We're afraid, isolated, confused, and many of us are at our wits end. We don't know what newsfeed to take seriously, when we're going to be able to have those big family dinners again, or when our kids are going to rediscover those important in-person friendships, that are so critical for their growth, without restrictions.
Doesn't seem like there's a lot to be grateful about, does it?
But here we are, in the month of American Thanksgiving (Canada passed its Thanksgiving holiday October 12th, Americans will celebrate November 26th). And it's looking quite different than it did back in 2019, a period of time that feels further in the past than a mere year ago.
Traditionally, American Thanksgiving is about celebrating the harvest and the blessings of the past year (if you feel stuck on what those blessings are in current times, family, friendships, and health are good starting points).
The general belief (but please correct us if you're a history buff) is that Thanksgiving models a harvest feast in 1621 enjoyed by English colonists, or pilgrims, of Plymouth and the Wampanoag Native American Tribe. Indeed, Thanksgiving is studded with legend and symbolism. The traditional Thanksgiving meal includes turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie.
But of course nowadays, every family does the Thanksgiving feast a bit differently. For instance, my family includes apple pie in the dessert spread and everyone's favorite: The Brussel Sprout. Okay, okay, I know there are some hard-core sprout lovers out there, and I admire them for it. While I am grateful for its presence at my table, I'm not always grateful for its presence in my mouth!
My family has a long-standing tradition of sharing around the dinner table. Sounds nice, right? Like sharing songs around an open campfire. But these aren't run-of-the-mill spiels of gratitude for those run-of-the-mill (but deeply appreciated) things that we often unintentionally take for granted. Instead, we share anecdotes about our lives, and those anecdotes are centered around a particularly significant theme in the human experience. Arguably, this theme is a necessary one because it touches the playful side of life, the one that we often forget about during the midst of things like pandemics and dubious political agendas. (On a side note: Just watch children play as often as you can. They will always remind us of how simple and joyful life really is).
Instead of these expressions of gratitude, we share the naughty side of life––that is our theme. Now before you start imagining whatever the imagination is capable of conjuring up when playing with the word naughty, let me be clear: there are several variations of the word. The kind of naughty we're talking about is a kind of squeaky clean misbehavin', and we keep it tame for the sake of the kids around our dinner table.
So, we pose a question to each person around my family's 12-person table that often has anywhere between 15 to 20 people squeezed around it like a rush hour bus ride: what's the naughtiest thing you've done this past year? (We ease the minds of the kids by assuring them that Santa makes this one a freebie). We always vote on a winner. Last year, we had to give it to my 9-year-old nephew who told us the following story:
One night, after waiting until everyone was asleep, he snuck out of bed, put on his cowboy boots, slung a holster around his waist, put on his headphones and fell asleep to Johnny Cash's Ghost Riders in the Sky. Why? Good question. Only the playful mind of a 9-year old could give such an answer, which was: “I wanted to dream I was a cowboy living in the wild West.” Well, alright then! Role playing before sleep to manipulate dream content is actually pretty clever. Perhaps I'll sling on a parachute and fall asleep to Tom Petty's Free Falling so I can dream I skydived, without actually having to do it. My nephew claims his strategy worked after all.
It was such an absurd story, and he was so unabashedly honest in the way he told it, like he was revealing some sweet juicy bubblegum secret to which his few special family members were privy. His recalling of his own private antics was so comical we couldn't help but give him First Place––and the first slice out of the pumpkin pie.
November can be a heavy time for many people, so in my family, we try to keep things light and lifted.
Expressions of gratitude fall a bit short sometimes. They often focus on superficial material things or the overstated (here we have the family-friends-health trio again). Of course, we're all grateful for our tablets, mobile phones, and access to Netflix, especially these days. And for our friends and family. It's just that that flavor of gratitude lacks a little, well, creativity.
Isn't high time we jazzed up our gratefulness?
Put on your shoes, take a short walk around your neighborhood (you can leave your phone at home), and notice all the cracks in the pavement. That's right––cracks in pavement, as preposterous as that may sound. Each one of those cracks has a shape that mimics the natural world. In your neighborhood, you may see lightning bolts carved right into the pavement. Or you may notice slight, almost wispy hairline cracks, like blades of grass. Maybe you'll see a heart, or a face, or a human silhouette. They're all there. They're all reasons to be grateful.
At the end of the day, perspective is the backbone of experience. The salt to the pepper. The parent to the child. The sun to the shadow. The horse to the cowboy. And gratitude shines through the realization that perspective is always a choice.
Learning to be nine years old again, to approach life with a little more innocent fun than our adult ways are used to doing, can be far more rewarding than recycling the same old expressions of gratitude year after year. All you need is a little creativity and perhaps, the active imagination of a nine-year-old at your Thanksgiving dinner table.
From our kitchen to yours, we wish you a fun and beautiful Thanksgiving with plenty of good stories and humor!