Thanksgiving will be celebrated across the US and Canada on Thursday 28 November.
People will gather with their loved ones and copious amounts of turkey will be consumed. Some may say prayers. Many will see it as an opportunity for a day off work, an opportunity to spend time with extended families and even take a long weekend.
This will be my first proper Thanksgiving in the US. Last year I was just settling in after having obtained my visa and wasn't really au fait with all the American customs. A friend flew over from London to spend a week with me and we stuffed ourselves silly at Korean BBQ. The holiday passed me by in a bit of a blur.
This year I will be attending my first proper Thanksgiving gatherings with my loved ones no doubt stuffing myself silly. Being an expat I find myself relishing popping my cherry with several firsts in US culture and tradition. I am excited to be part of a Thanksgiving celebration with people I cherish. But I have noticed that as with many notable or religious holidays Thanksgiving too has become somewhat lost in commerciality - an excuse for shops to sell their 'must have' Thanksgiving wares and to encourage people to go shopping in the sales. Sadly that means that along the way for many the true meaning has become lost.
Historically the holiday came about because it was a time of year when people gave thanks for the harvest. In the present day it seems to have translated into a day to be appreciative of loved ones hence the most busy time for airports in the US with people travelling across the country to be reunited with their families.
I feel Thanksgiving is significant because of the concept of gratitude which this holiday conveys which extends beyond the day itself and is so important to everyday life.
The virtues of gratitude have been widely extolled but I believe its importance has been underplayed and its true value has been somewhat lost in our society.
For the most part gratitude is not a quality that we have enough of individually or collectively. Most of us do not choose to have it as the lens that colours our perspective on life. To the contrary, many of us tend to have a perspective of either apathy or active ingratitude. And an ungrateful attitude towards life, whether implicit or express, ultimately brings disharmony and chaos.
Einstein said the only way to live life is as though everything is a miracle. And I truly believe that by adopting an attitude of gratitude we can shift our perspective and in doing so draw great miracles into our lives.
Gratitude is akin to a mental and emotional muscle that we build that will help us through tough times.
Life is all about perspective and ultimately our consciousness creates reality so by shifting our consciousness to one of gratitude we can literally create a different existence for ourselves.
I was reminded of this recently when talking with a client about her career and how she had come to enjoy and almost relish in something that months ago she had bitterly complained about. Nothing in the actual situation had changed. All that had altered was her consciousness.
The other night I had a true lesson in both humility and gratitude. After dinner with a friend I took away the leftovers in a bag to offer to someone in need. My friend slightly poo-poohed me wondering how I had the gall to give some left over BBQ chicken to a random homeless person. As we left the restaurant a homeless man walked past pushing his belongings in a trolley. With my friends words ringing in my ear I slightly nervously offered him my doggy bag adding awkwardly that it was really very tasty chicken. He looked me in the eye and said, 'it is food. That's enough to make me grateful'.
My friend and I found ourselves both teary and humbled at this man's gratitude for something we took for granted.
In our fast paced instant fix, instant gratification society we often expect immediate success in life and compare ourselves to others. Rather than counting our own blessings we count what we don't have. When we do achieve we often don't pause to give thanks and have a moment of wonder and appreciation, instead rushing on with whatever is next on our lists.
The danger is that this can lead to apathy, depression and resentment which in turn can cause bitterness and jealousy. It goes without saying this is toxic. But gratitude is an antidote that works to fix these ills.
In my darkest of times I found myself doing a gratitude exercise where literally as I would awake in the morning I would thank the universe, the higher powers that exist, for waking again. As I stepped out of bed I would thank god that I had the ability to walk and feel the carpet under my toes. The list went on. I am not saying I spent 24 hours a day being grateful - but I made sure that I at least spent the first hour or so every day and the last hour being consciously grateful no matter how 'bad' or challenging my day had been or how much of a victim I felt.
This practice completely changed my life. In practical terms my world didn't change overnight but as my consciousness truly changed, like a mirror, my actual life changed for the best. It is as though by appreciating all I had the universe decided to shower me with blessings. It goes without saying that I am very grateful.
We all have challenges in our lives but to on some level nearly all of us can find something to be grateful for.
And for those of us who are able to shift our consciousness we will not only create miracles in our own lives but also in others. I feel that a perspective of gratitude will allow us to extend compassion to others. There is nothing like counting your own blessings and feeling full of gratitude to open your eyes to the plight and needs of others.
So on Thanksgiving as I over indulge and spend time with loved ones I will of course be giving thanks for all that I have -from the big things to the little. But I will do this every day for the rest of my days. Not because I will necessarily always feel like it, not because I am some spiritual guru, but because in my humble opinion it is the only way to live our lives.
'Piglet noted that even though he only had a Very Small Heart, it could hold rather a large amount of Gratitude' - A A Milne. Winnie the Pooh.