It’s that time of year again when people all over America are getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with friends and family. We’ve begun to see that days of gratitude posts on social media, we’ve seen “gobs” of turkeys in the store (see what I did there…gobs/gobble?), and in some parts of the country we’ve started to fear that all the fall décor outside will be covered in snow before the big day.
Gratitude is an amazing thing. It is genuinely good for you. Many say that it has health benefits for the thankful ones. Even if it doesn’t do anything for your health, it is good for you as you seek to be a more compassionate & empathetic person. But, are there other ways that this season of gratitude could benefit those around us in need? Saying we’re thankful is necessary & wonderful. Showing that we’re thankful by what we do each day is even better, especially if we’re feeling less than thankful because of present circumstances.
So here are 7 ideas to show that you’re thankful for the life you’ve been given, even when the going is tough.
#1. Food. This is usually a safe place to start. If you live in America, chances are that you have had or will have a meal today. Now, maybe it isn’t exactly what you would prefer. Maybe you haven’t been able to go out to eat in a year or two, but you’ve most likely had food recently. When you find yourself thankful for food, there are a variety of ways to express that appreciation by giving to others who are struggling. Give to a food shelf or pantry. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or for meals on wheels (trust me, they’re always looking for volunteers). At the very least make a bit of something and share it with a neighbor or a friend that could use a hand because they work long hours or have been in the hospital. If those don’t suit you, consider giving to charities like Heifer International to give the gift of animals or seeds to people in developing countries so that the investment keeps growing.
#2. Warmth. If you are feeling especially grateful for the heat that you get to experience, especially if you live in a northern climate, consider giving warm gear to your local clothing drive. Coats, snow pants, hats, scarves, gloves, etc. are usually accepted at coat drives for those struggling to stay warm or to clothe their children for the winter months.
#3. Shelter. How often do you walk into your home with overwhelming gratefulness to be out of the elements outside (whether it’s too cold, hot, or pouring cats & dogs)? If you are grateful for shelter, consider that others would be grateful for the chance at shelter. Most cities & even some smaller towns now have shelter for those in need. Give a gift of money or something else that they’ve stated that they need.
#4. Healthy relationships. Sometimes being around people that have unhealthy relationships is enough to spur our thankfulness for those with whom we share a good relationship. When you find yourself thankful in this way, consider helping those who are struggling in this way. There are multiple battered women’s shelters & homes that help children transitioning out of abusive situations. If you are really struck by the need of the children in these situations, consider more than just giving monetarily. The need for foster parents in good homes is huge in every state in our country. You could have a direct impact in their lives. If that seems too extreme, perhaps a big brother/big sister program might be a better fit.
#5. Education. It’s always an option to contribute to scholarship funds for others who attended your high school or other less fortunate areas of the country. Help someone else out in the same way in which you were helped!
#6. Extended family. Donating time or items to nursing homes is a great way to show thankfulness for those in our extended family that are elderly. They are often looking for volunteers to help with activities, reading aloud, giving small concerts for residents, etc. It can be a great way to give back.
#7. Health. If you’re extremely grateful for your health, consider giving to hospitals that do not charge their patients, like certain children’s hospitals. They’re always looking for donations. If you’re unable to give monetarily, perhaps volunteering might be an option, or making needed items like chemo hats or lap blankets. Be sure to call in advance to be sure you’d be filling a need & not creating extra hassle with items that you’d make.
These are just a few ideas, but I’m fully confident that if you dwell on how thankful you are, you will probably come up with many more ideas that can show your thankfulness in tangible ways & help to make someone else’s life a bit more bearable.
Finding Joy in Every Day Life
As we age, there is a definite sameness that begins to take over life. Same routine, same feelings, same people coming around each day. Once we've made the transition into an assisted living facility, that sameness can continue & even become crushing, if we allow it. It does not have to. Even if our life & routine are very similar from day to day, there are ways to look at that life with a new perspective.
Consider thankfulness. When you are faced with the mundane, and wonder why you should even bother to get out of bed to face it, consider starting to be thankful for the things that ARE mundane. The bed, for one, & that you have one. Perhaps the roof kept you dry last night, there's two. The heater is working, that's three. You can breathe, four. Go through the little things that surround you before you even sit up & soon you will find yourself thankful to be able to sit up & then stand. It's not guaranteed that you'll be able to do those things for your entire life, so while you can, be thankful & when you can't, find other things to be thankful for. It really does put a whole new spin on your outlook & on your day. Our lives are, after all, made up of many consecutive, seemingly mundane days.
Show that you care. I know, it's not popular in some households & frowned upon by people from some backgrounds, but it's important. If you can spend even 15 minutes out of every day intentionally letting those around you know that you care for them, in word or deed, it will improve your life, bring you joy & bring joy to them. If you have 10 more minutes, drop letters to those who are further away from you. If you have 30 extra minutes, call someone you care about. The sense of connectedness is important to all of us.
Make a few lists. In the back of my journal I have lists of my favorite sounds, smells, sights, etc. Spend some time thinking about the things that you really love. Then, when your day is especially difficult, try your best to incorporate some of those things into your day. If you love walking in the woods, but never get a chance to do that, make it a point to do that when you're feeling down. If you love reading, but haven't been able to make time to do it, eek out some time to spend with a good book. You're a uniquely made person, and as such, you need to pay attention to the things that bring you joy. They won't necessarily coincide with the things that bring joy to others & that's okay. It's good to be different & it's good to pay attention to what makes you different. Feed what brings you joy, starve what brings you anxiety.
Turn your words. Sometimes when life is incredibly difficult, negativity can set in. It's not bad to say things are tough...it is bad when that is the only lens we see things through. It is bad when it becomes such a habit that we find only negative words coming from our mouths. Our words can influence our own thoughts & the thoughts of those around us. Instead of dwelling on the fact that you can't afford XYZ, talk about all the great things in life that are free to you. Instead of focusing on your waning eyesight, talk about the smell of the rose bush outside your window. Life is hard, there is no denying it. How we interact with it can determine whether it has any joy, or whether we'll just endure it. I choose joy!
The Importance of Community to the Elderly
All human beings have innate needs. Most people think immediately of air, water, food & shelter as being the most important & they would be justified in thinking this. But, according to numerous accounts throughout history, there are other things that are needed in order for humans to survive in this world. Human touch and interaction are just as important as the other elements that we think of immediately.
There were numerous studies done in orphanages that researched the psychological effects of touch and interaction on those who've been abandoned, & conversely, what can happen if those needs are not met. The same can hold true for those who are on the opposite end of the spectrum of life. Human care, social interaction & basic community can have amazing & life giving help for those who are walking the path into old age. Here are some of the benefits.
Social benefits. If it is necessary for a person to engage in social conversation with others at various times during the day, it keeps one's mind engaged and sharp in order to be able to ask questions and answer them. It helps them to stay engaged in what is going on in the world around them, as well as to pass on their wisdom & life experience to those with whom they come into contact.
Mental benefits. Interaction with others requires focus and concentration. It often brings up points of discussion which may be of interest to us or that might lead us to seek more information on various topics. The ability to do that, and then find answers that we are looking for through research keeps our mental wits about us & can give us further wisdom to offer people.
Physical benefits. While it does not seem particularly easy to see physical benefits from social interaction, just think about when people come to visit your home. It forces one out of the status quo. You must play host or hostess by offering something to eat or drink, show people around the yard or garden, fetch a photograph of someone about whom you're talking or various other small duties throughout their visit. If a person were to simply be engaged in a television program during that time, the effort for even these small things might be regarded as “too much” and that person could easily pass 3 hours time without any physical effort at all. Another physical benefit is that they have people checking in on them on a regular basis & would have help to decipher whether or not it might be time to take a trip to a doctor if a fall or an illness do occur.
Emotional benefits. This benefit seems much more obvious to those looking. Emotionally healthy people are generally those who interact with others, show an interest in their lives & find value in their own. They are easily able to see that things can be difficult for others & develop sympathy for them. They can see that there are many positive things in their own lives & that they have much to offer to others. They can love and feel loved by others.
So how do we go about offering the gift of community to the elderly we come into contact with? First, engage them in conversation! Show that you are interested in their lives & eventually you'll be rewarded in finding some of the amazing adventures that they've lived through.
Second, visit them regularly. Do not make the mistake of thinking that your visit is not important. It may be the only one that they look forward to.
Third, keep them engaged in the world around them. If they seem to be roused by interest in politics, gardening, food or talk of the town, keep them talking about those things & bring articles that may interest them to read or watch while you are gone so that you can discuss them further in the future.