When we hear the word ‘Thanksgiving’, we think of food (lots of food), football games, parades, family, and maybe even dried and fallen leaves. To sum it all up, perhaps we’re reminded of a celebration. But do we ever really know what we’re celebrating, what we’re giving thanks for?

We’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving for almost 400 years already, and with the same kind of celebration every year, it’s easy to forget what the holiday is really all about. Thanksgiving day is more than just about the family activities and festive dinners. Sure, these things are all there for us to enjoy, but this day should remind us of the things we’re thankful for in life. The blessings we have, the gift of family and friends, they’re the main reasons why food is on the dinner table, why Thanksgiving is a special day rather than just another Thursday.

Sadly, Thanksgiving is slowly losing its meaning, especially in today’s world where we’re all just focused on how we’re celebrating Thanksgiving so we can take awesome photos to post on social media. Kids are too busy playing mobile and video games. Teenagers are mostly on Instagram, documenting the whole day and showing off to their followers how they’re spending Thanksgiving. Just like any other holiday, it’s just seen as an opportunity to dress up, look good on camera and take Instagrammable photos. The rest probably have their eyes glued on the TV screen either watching football games or family movies on Netflix.

Sure, we spend a few moments before dinner to give our thanks, to pray and express our gratitude for all our blessings in life. But is that really all the thanksgiving there is on this holiday? Unfortunately for most people, that’s all there is. A lot of us today fail to understand the real and deeper meaning of Thanksgiving, that it’s not just all about us.

Thanksgiving is made up of two separate words: thanks and giving. Most of us simply understand it as giving thanks, but have we ever stopped and asked ourselves: what else can I give? Who am I supposed to give back to? Is a simple ‘Thank you’ all there is to give? Expressing gratitude goes more than just saying the word ‘thanks’. When we’re truly thankful for someone, we go out of our way to express how much we appreciate that person. It’s not just a one-time exchange, feeling grateful for someone doesn’t really have a time limit. We can’t just be thankful for a few hours or a few days. It makes a mark, and that mark stays with us. On Thanksgiving, we could do more than just say ‘thank you’ to the people were grateful for. More often than not, actions speak a lot louder than words.

More importantly, when we’re thankful for our life and the blessings that we have, the more significant Thanksgiving is for us. Oftentimes, we focus too much on our own little bubble. In this little world, I see myself and the people who linger close to me. I say my thanks for what I am, what I have, and give thanks for the people who are with me in this tiny bubble. Sometimes it’s just all about the ‘thanks’ and never about the ‘giving’. I ask myself: Is it really ‘giving’ if I’m only giving to myself and to my friends and family? Is it really ‘giving’ even if it’s the easy way?

It’s so easy to give to the people I know and love, but what about to everyone else I don’t usually see and notice? Those who are outside of my own little bubble? I may have everything I need in this world of mine, making it so easy for me to be thankful. But what about those who hardly have anything in life to be thankful for?

They say when you’re truly grateful, you give back. And I truly believe that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. We receive so much in life–so much time, blessings in the form of opportunities, people, money, talent–and the best way to express our gratitude is when we share these blessings with other people, especially to ones who need them the most.

I had an astonishing encounter with someone a few years ago. This woman was physically disabled, and as a result, she has limited job opportunities. Although she graduated from college, she still ended up being challenged financially. I was expecting that all the stories I’ll hear from this woman would be about her difficulties, her sad stories about how she’s bullied and discriminated. To my surprise, she talked to me about everything she was thankful for in life. I stood frozen for a few seconds, taken aback by how grateful she is despite everything she doesn’t have. I have so much more compared to what she has, I have a complete set of arms and legs, I’m living a comfortable life, but do I ever express my gratitude the way she does?

What startled me, even more, is that she gives back to others more than I do. Her weekly salary isn’t even big enough to cover her basic needs yet she finds it so easy to share a portion of this to other people in the community who need it. She would spend money to buy a token of appreciation every time I visited her, and I just had to ask myself, “How can she give so much despite having so little? I’m the one who’s physically able, financially capable, but why do I find it so hard to give?” Today I finally know the answer, it’s because she’s genuinely grateful.

Thanksgiving is all about being able to see and appreciate how much we have and sharing it to others who need it the most. It’s not just about focusing on everything we have in this tiny bubble, it’s about stepping outside and recognizing the world outside of ourselves. After all, these are the real things that makeup, Thanksgiving: love, family, and generosity.

“Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you.” – Eileen Caddy

Let our hearts be full of both thanks and giving

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