Now that we've digested our annual combination of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and stuffed turkey, I'd like to offer you a challenge.
It's a beautiful concept we have in our country to dedicate a day to giving thanks. However, that concept is sometimes too ambiguous and vast, so we often miss out on the opportunity. It's time we take it to the next level.
I've thought of 10 simple, quick ways to give thanks year-round. Your challenge is to do 5 out of 10. It could easily take you only a few minutes, let alone until next Thanksgiving, and I guarantee you won't regret it.
Smile warmly at five people that you've never met. When some (or all) of them inevitably don't smile back, remind yourself that life is hard and feel compassion toward them that their life is so hectic, stressful, or challenging that they cannot even return a smile to a warm smiling face. Be thankful and conscious that you can.
2. Connect with old friends
Think back to your close friends back in elementary school. Look one up that you haven't been in touch with for a few years and share a quick memory with them about the good times you had together. If you can do it, thank them for being your friend. They'll be happy to hear from you.
3. Start the day device-free
Most of us use our cell phones as our alarm to wake up. Inevitably, that means the first thing in your hand to start the day is your phone, and that means you're checking your emails before you've fully opened your eyes. Go buy an alarm clock and leave your cell phone in the kitchen. Start your day with "yourself on" instead of "your cell phone." With your new application of ancient wisdom called a digital alarm clock, commit to start your day with a 10-second statement that I'm thankful to be waking up and alive to experience another day.
4. Thank someone who inspires you
Think about a person in your life who impassioned you. Whether it was a friend who introduced you to a youth group, a camp director, your rabbi growing up, or even an author of a book you read that got you thinking. Send them a note thanking them, and tell them how they've made a difference in your life. Enjoy knowing that you made their day.
5. Call your parents
Take 60 seconds to think about the challenge of raising a child from infancy through high school. Ponder the diapers, late nights reading bedtime stories and the limited vacation options; the weeknight and weekday obligations to schools, sports practices and competitions, music lessons, gymnastics, karate, adolescence and all that comes with it (don't remind me …); the money required to provide food, clothing, a night out with friends to the movies, medical bills, school supplies, college and prison bail (you didn't have that experience?).
We tend to notice the areas where they didn't provide for us. Today, call your parents to tell them you realize they have done a lot for you, and thank them for it.
6. Appreciate water
When you drink a cup of water, before you put it to your lips, take 10 seconds to think about how fantastic water is. We are made up mostly of water. Can you imagine what life would be like if water tasted bad? Or wasn't easily accessible? Or was painful to swallow? But it has a pleasant taste, is available, and is pleasant to take in. Then say a blessing to G-d for such a precious gift in such pleasant wrappings: Blessed are you, G-d, Ruler of the Universe, Who brings everything into existence.
7. Appreciate healing
Think back to a time in the past that you were once in physical pain. Ever break a bone? Sick in bed? In an accident? Had surgery? So often we revel in the pain, but we forget to revel in the relief and joy when it has passed. Take a moment to revel in the beauty and pleasure of the body healing. Write down your feelings and share them in your favorite social media venue.
8. Be grateful for a new thing each day
Find one thing in the world you can be thankful for each day and spend a minute thinking about how grand it is. Some examples you can use: sunlight, trees, paved streets, your pet, lungs, the beating of your heart or having 5 fingers on each hand. Don't overthink it. Then take 15 seconds to feel the honor and privilege of such a grand gift in your life.
9. Tell someone you love them
Think of someone you love who may not know it. Send them a text telling them you do. Here's a template if you need help:
"Hi ____! It's me, Josh (I advise you to use your name and not mine). I love you."
It's that simple. Feel free to copy the text and paste it for a few others to brighten their day too if you'd like.
10. Write a letter to yourself
Write a love letter to yourself. Be real, have compassion and be loving. Step out of yourself for a minute and write a letter describing your favorite things about you. Are you athletic? Funny? Insightful? Caring? Friendly? Kind? Be thankful for who you are. It doesn't have to be a long letter, just real. Then put it in an envelope with a stamp, address it to yourself, and send it, or entrust someone to send it at a time when you need it.
Share this challenge with your friends, and definitely tell me about your experience. I hope it goes well!