Nov. 1, 2013: Put gratitude into action during November — and beyond, by Sarah Jenkins

web-SarahJenkinsIn November 1949, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous suggested that this month might be a special time for those in recovery to reflect on gratitude. A decade later, Bill Wilson made his message even more clear: “Gratitude should go forward, rather than backward… If you carry the message to still others, you will be making the best possible repayment for the help given to you.”

That helps explain why gratitude, in these weeks before Thanksgiving, should be more than just a feeling. It should be giving back, paying it forward. An “attitude of gratitude” means taking action, giving to others in recognition of all we’ve been given.

The idea probably didn’t start with AA, nor is it limited to people in recovery. All Americans might spend a portion of their Thanksgiving reflecting on what we have to be grateful for. It may also serve as the unofficial launch of the holiday tradition of charitable giving, of paying it forward.

Shoppers are out in force on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, and so are the volunteers who staff the red kettles of the Salvation Army. It’s the day stores kick off their biggest holiday sales, while employees everywhere put up “angel trees” and organize company fundraisers to help those in need.

The next day has been marketed as “Small Business Saturday,” when local retailers urge potential customers to leave the big box stores and see what’s offered on Main Street (or, in Concordia’s case, Sixth Street).

Then comes “Cyber Monday,” when American online shoppers in 2012 spent $1.5 billion — yes, billion, with a B — in a single day.

In 2012 there was addition to the Christmas countdown: “Giving Tuesday,” as a way to remind people that the holidays are not just about spending; they are also about paying it forward to people who need the help.

This year the Sisters of St. Joseph have planned a Giving Tuesday food drive to help stock the pantry at Helping Hands, the emergency food bank located within Manna House of Prayer. On Giving Tuesday, Dec. 3 — or before — please consider dropping off a bag of nonperishable groceries at the Nazareth Motherhouse, Neighbor to Neighbor in downtown Concordia or Manna House at 323 E. 5th St.

While we as a nation sometimes see this season as an excuse to shop til we drop, events like Giving Tuesday may also motivate us to give til it hurts.

We should pause to be grateful for the opportunity to do both.

We could even use that pause to write (yes, write!) a “gratitude list” — of everything we are grateful for in our lives today.

Write the first 10 “gifts” that come to mind. Family, job, home, breakfast this morning, Diet Coke…

Then write another 10.

Then see if you can add five more.

Read it over and then date it. And a month from today start over with another list.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life,” wrote author Melody Beattie. “… It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend… It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

So celebrate “Gratitude Month” with action — and a vision, perhaps, for how to carry it forward beyond November.

— Sarah Jenkins is the communications director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

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