When I was growing up, Thanksgiving at my house would start pretty much like everyone else’s Thanksgiving. But as the day wore on, things would begin to change. Mom would drink more and more as the day progressed. By the time dinner came around 4p, there would normally be wine or beer at the table. When the sun went down and night time came, the fighting began.

Some of you can relate to this while others can’t fathom what it was like.

As I got older and more mobile, I was able to switch things up a bit. I had a number of close friends around town and, being a teenager, I was pretty much hungry all the time. So my strategy on Thanksgiving included showing up at 3-5 Thanksgiving dinners throughout the day. I would find out when friend or family was eating and plan my day accordingly. When I was engaged to Noell, she went with me on what she called my “Turkey journey”. At that time it included my mom’s house, the Colliers, the Connors, and often the Tedfords.

Even after we were married, the Colliers would often save a seat for me in case I decided to show up.

There is a time and place for everything.  Even for giving.  It was hard for me to focus on giving to others when my life was in turmoil.  The problem is, that even though I may have felt justified in my lack of thanksgiving, the choice to engage in it, kept me in that frame of mind.

Recently I was doing some research on Oxytocin, the enjoyment chemical in your brain. When you give something to someone, you release Oxytocin. It is released when you think about good things, when you go on an enjoyable vacation, and when you see an old friend again. It may be released when you go shopping on Black Friday (Noell Greeno). If you’re enjoying something, your brain doesn’t know one activity from another.  When you think about good things in your life.  Maybe a vacation you’re going on, maybe seeing an old friend.  Maybe Black Friday shopping. (Noell Greeno!!) In this context, your brain can’t tell the difference between actually doing an activity and just thinking about it, so it releases Oxytocin in both cases. Therefore, just THINKING about things you’re thankful for can actually put you in a better mood.

Recently I started making a list each night of what I am thankful for that day. Doing this puts my mind where it needs to be in order to be truly thankful. An added bonus is that instead of checking off tasks from the day, it helps my brain actually search for meaningful things.

One thing that stands out to me right now that I am thankful for is the amount of time people have invested in me over the years. They may not have been aware of it, but that open seat held for me each Thanksgiving was an investment in me. And there were so many who did similar things for me back then. Because of those investments in me so many years ago, we now reserve extra space at the Greeno table for people who need to just “drop by”. I can’t remember a holiday meal where we didn’t have at least 1 extra person at our table and I remember some where we had nearly 20.

So today I am thankful for so many things, but right now I am grateful for the opportunity to invest in other people. I know that through “small” investments like these we really can change the world.

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