The Value of Thanks … and the Value of Action

As all of my American readers know and many international readers know as well, today is the day that many American families celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. For those abroad, Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States centered around giving thanks for the blessings of the year and of the harvest and is typically celebrated with family and friends gathering for a large meal with what is considered traditional harvest foods, including a variety of vegetables and usually with a cooked turkey as a centerpiece (though the specifics can vary quite a bit).

For my family, Thanksgiving centers around family. A rather large number of my extended family members gather at one of our homes for a large dinner and plenty of conversation, along with watching parades and football n television. The dinner is usually pretty traditional Thanksgiving fare – turkey, harvest vegetables, and wine are usually on the menu – but it’s usually a day-long affair with a lot of family together under one roof. We usually replicate a similar event with my wife’s extended family a day or two later.

I love the holiday. I use it as an excuse to have a nice one-on-one conversation with almost everyone in my extended family, to play several games of cards with my father and my brothers (this is somewhat of a traditional thing – it happens every year, as the four of us gather around a table and play a few games of cards together), and to eat a big slice of pumpkin pie (which is my highlight food-wise).

Of course, a big part of Thanksgiving is “thanks.” The holiday’s core meaning is about giving thanks for the blessings of the year, and it’s a perfect day to reflect on those blessings.

For example…

Nine Things I’m Thankful For This Year

I’m thankful for the love and support of my wonderful wife, Sarah. Her steadiness, warmth, and humor have guided me through so much in life.

I’m thankful for the continued growth of my three children. They are all blossoming into wonderful young people and it is my pleasure to have a front row seat to the whole thing (and to play a role in it, too).

I’m thankful for my health. My ability to wake up in the morning and do the things I want to do without any significant pain is a pretty nice blessing.

I’m thankful for the hobbies that I enjoy and the people I’ve met through those hobbies.

I’m thankful for financial stability and not having to worry about keeping the bills paid.

I’m thankful for having a career that gives me the chance to think deeply about a variety of issues and express myself creatively while still having great time flexibility.

I’m thankful for the people in my wider social network who bring so much joy into my life in so many different ways.

I’m thankful for beautiful weather and beautiful scenery, whether in the warmth of summer or the cold of winter.

I’m thankful for being part of a supportive community, where I have helped others and been given help more times than I can count.

(I could easily name more, but let’s stop here for now.)

Being Thankful on Thanksgiving Is Just the Start

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to stop and reflect on the things that you’re thankful for. Making a list like the one above for your own life is a really great way to spend some time today.

The thing is, when you do make a list of the things you’re thankful for like that, what you’re essentially doing is “gratitude journaling.” It’s really no different than that.

Gratitude journaling is a daily practice where a person essentially lists a few things that they’re grateful for in their own life. It’s a wonderful daily practice that I picked up on a couple of years ago and have found to be a wonderful addition to my own life.

Why do this every day, you might ask? It’s simple. Having a lot of gratitude leads to contentment with your life. Contentment means that the fires of your endless desire for more things in life is substantially cooled.

Let me make this clear: being content with your life doesn’t mean that you no longer want things. It simply means that you no longer want more in the areas of your life in which you already have abundance, and in the modern world, most of us have lives that are mostly filled with abundance.

Contentment doesn’t mean that you skip the gym if you want to improve your physical shape. It means that your desire to buy yet another addition to an already overstuffed collection burns out.

Contentment means that you recognize that you have a pretty good life as it is, so the fire for spending all of your money on the short term goes away and it becomes much more worthwhile to save for the long term.

In short, for financial goals and for feeling good about yourself and your life in the general sense, contentment is invaluable. It takes away the desire to spend money in order to feel “good enough” because you’re already good enough. For me, being content enables me to channel my desire for a better life into narrower and more sensible areas, and it also channels my desire to protect this wonderful life that I have.

So, today, simply make a list of things you’re thankful for. Just a few. But don’t stop with today. Do it tomorrow as well, and the day after that, and the day after that.

The reason? Such a practice cultivates a sense of contentment and abundance in life, which makes it far easier to use one’s energy to grow in a purposeful and meaningful way. It makes it far easier to be frugal, as a lot of pettier wants and desires vanish, and it makes it far easier to channel desires into a small number of more meaningful areas which can bring about actual change instead of dissatisfaction with life.

Dare I say it? It’s the power of Thanksgiving.

Thankfulness Through Action

It doesn’t end there, though.

Several months ago, for personal curiosity’s sake, I pulled out my gratitude journal – a notebook where I list a few things each day I’m grateful for – and started to count them.

What I was really looking for were some big patterns. What things did I really find that I was grateful for most often?

I was grateful for my immediate family – my wife and my kids – the most, followed by the outdoors. I found that my physical health and my hobbies formed a pretty clear second tier, along with my extended family and friends. My financial state and my career were pretty high, too.

What I began to realize as I went through the entries and did a rough mental count is that the things that showed up quite often were really the most important things in my life. They were the things that meant the most to me, and they were the things that I would miss the most if they went away.

This led to the next question: what can I be doing to preserve and enhance those things that I care about the most?

In other words, the things I am most thankful and grateful for in my life led me to rethinking a lot of my long term and short term goals. If those are the things that really make my life worth living, what am I doing to preserve them and to enhance them?

I am consistently grateful for my marriage. What am I doing to strengthen my marriage and keep it a focus in my life?

I am consistently grateful for my children. What am I doing to be a better parent?

I am consistently grateful for the beauty of nature. What am I doing to spend more time outdoors and keep it beautiful?

I am consistently grateful for my health. What am I doing to stay healthy, both for myself and my family?

I am consistently grateful for my hobbies. What am I doing to ensure that I have blocks of time for the activities that are meaningful to me?

I am consistently grateful for my career and work. What am I doing to produce better and more meaningful work, both for myself and for readers?

I am consistently grateful for our financial stability. What am I doing to ensure and grow that stability so that it lasts for a very long time?

I am consistently grateful for my extended family and friends. What am I doing to preserve and build those relationships?

Those questions lead me directly to personal goals, both short term and long term goals.

What am I doing to strengthen my marriage and keep it a focus in my life? I make sure to set aside time to have at least one meaningful conversation with Sarah each day and some degree of physical contact. I try to touch on what makes her feel loved each day. This is both a daily goal and a long term goal.

What am I doing to be a better parent? I stop work – period – when they’re about to arrive home from school. Rather than just handing out rules and discipline, I try to take the time to explain to them why particular rules exist and why they have consequences. I read with them every day. I aim to have a meaningful conversation with each child at least every other day.

What am I doing to spend more time outdoors and keep it beautiful? An outdoor walk is part of my daily routine. About once a week, I take a trash bag with me and pick up anything that shouldn’t be there on my route and drop the trash in the large trash container at the park as I go by it near the end of my walk. I go on at least one hike in a state park each week, weather permitting.

What am I doing to stay healthy, both for myself and my family? This is something that’s a real challenge for me. Right now, my focus is on mastering a relatively low calorie diet, which means that I’m trying to master an internal “guidance system” that knows when I’ve eaten enough calories in the day. It’s harder than it sounds. I’ve taken up taekwondo and am committed to a strong progression through the belt ranks.

What am I doing to ensure that I have blocks of time for the activities that are meaningful to me? The biggest thing I’m doing for this is revising my entire professional workflow. I think there are some inefficient parts to the way I’ve been doing things for a long time and I’m trying to iron those out, but it’s challenging. This enables me to have more free time, from which I block out part of each Sunday solely for hobbies.

What am I doing to produce better and more meaningful work, both for myself and for readers? That ties into the above answer. I’m trying to re-orchestrate my entire professional workflow to create more meaningful work in a little less time than before by taking in the lessons of the last several years.

What am I doing to ensure and grow our financial stability so that it lasts for a very long time? For me, the best strategy is to keep an eye on my unnecessary purchases. Using money to fulfill wants usually ends up with unfulfilling purchases that take me away from financial goals, so simply finding ways to be vigilant against it is valuable. Strategies like budgeting for non-essentials works really well here.

What am I doing to preserve and build relationships with extended family and friends? I actually keep track of the last time I had meaningful contact with a lot of extended family members and non-local friends, and I use that to make sure I’m keeping in touch with them regularly. If I haven’t touched base with someone in a couple of weeks, I make sure to do so and then reset that date.

Those questions – and a few similar ones – lead me straight into meaningful areas of thinking about my life, and giving those areas some thought leads me straight into meaningful goals in my life.

Transforming Thought into Action

The final step here, of course, is to actually take action on all of those things that you’re thankful for. You’ve taken the step to track your thankfulness and gratitudes each day. You’ve figured out which ones pop up time and time again. You’ve figured out meaningful action to ensure that those things you are grateful for are preserved and built upon.

The final step, then, is action. You know what you can do today to ensure that the things you are most thankful for are built upon and preserved. Are you going to do it?

I usually have a really healthy handful of goals going on all at the same time. Some of them are listed above. What I’ve found is that if I take those goals each day and literally transfer the next step for each of them to my to-do list for the day, I usually get those steps done. (I usually block out calendar time for those that need to be done in a contiguous block.)

Yes, I often have a really long to-do list each day, but here’s the thing: when I know that things to be done are connected to things that I’m truly thankful for in life, then that task really doesn’t seem so bad. Often, it seems joyful, especially upon completion. I find it easier to motivate myself to do something if I see the connection between that task and the thing I’m thankful for in my life.

For example, right now we’re struggling a bit with my youngest child as he figures out some of the finer points of personal boundaries. He likes to hug people and he’s still figuring out the right time and the wrong time to hug. Talking to him about these things isn’t easy – it’s not a fun task. It’s also one that needs to be touched upon regularly to keep it fresh in his mind.

However, when I reflect on the idea that my son is something I am truly thankful for in my life, it becomes easier. I can tie that task directly to that feeling of thanks and gratitude I have for what he brings into my life, so it becomes easier to sit down with him and have a talk about it.

Another example: I’m often tempted to buy things that I don’t really need, and I have a monthly “free spending” budget that I use to buy hobby related things and other incidental things. One thing I can do daily is to review my “free spending” account to make sure I’m not overspending without thinking about it, something I’ve been doing to ensure I keep my financial destiny where I want it to be.

Thanksgiving Is the Start

Today, as you take a moment to give thanks for all of the blessings in your life, let that not be the end of things, but the start.

Start by giving thanks tomorrow, too, and the day after, and the day after. Start a little gratitude journal in a notebook somewhere and write down a few things each day that you’re grateful for. That simple act will help drive a sense of abundance and contentment and even joy in your life.

From there, carry it forward into action. Look at that gratitude journal and see what patterns you notice. Look for the things that you’re truly thankful for over and over again, and ask yourself what you can do to preserve and protect and enhance those things over the long term.

Take that long term goal and turn it into daily action. What can you do today to make that long term goal happen? Add that task to your list of things to do today.

Those things that you add to your to-do list that are directly borne from your sense of gratitude and thanks for the abundance of your life are things that will be both deeply meaningful for you in the moment because you see that connection, but will also build into some of the most powerful things you’ll ever do.

Let the value of thanks lead your life. Let it lead you to better financial choices, better professional choices, better personal choices. You’ll be glad you did.

Good luck.

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