We all look forward to the Thanksgiving holidays. It's a time when replete with great food, people we love, a bit of time off, and high-level sports watching, as well as ushering in the Christmas shopping season!
At the same time, however, Thanksgiving's potential for doing good is often underutilized. Too often, the holiday gathering is no more than another get together, only with a better dinner. We enjoy the season, but we are in danger of it being just another holiday. Not only that, but it's easy for families and friends to make it about "us" or simply "me," and forget about the bigger picture of what Thanksgiving is about.
Too often our only memory of the previous Thanksgiving is the food.
This "me" orientation is much larger than the holiday. It has to do with what is called entitlement, and has grown to epidemic proportions in our families, businesses and relationships. It can damage relationships, jobs and families. In my just-released book The Entitlement Cure, I define this problem as two attitudes:
(1) I am exempt from responsibility; and (2) I am owed special treatment.
In other words, entitlement moves us away from what is important, and toward self-gratification. It can be found at all ages, from little kids to young adults to the aged as well.
Of all the holidays in the year, Thanksgiving is actually the number one opportunity to undo the effects of entitlement in ourselves and those who matter to us. Think about it: the word itself is about gratitude and appreciation for what we have. It is oriented toward the outside, where life is, and not our own happiness. So take advantage of this time of the year to help cure the entitlement disease. Here are some tips that will help:
· Go over the Thanksgiving story during the day. The Pilgrim story keeps us in touch with history and tradition. It's interesting, short and is worth memorializing. If children are at the table, I always recommend assigning one of them, ahead of time, to tell the story in a couple of minutes. When we hear it from kids, it engages us better, and they don't get as bored either.
· Have a short time of "around the table" statements of thanks. Just start the simple conversation of one thing you are grateful for: kids, parents, those you care about, health, love, a good job. It doesn't have to take more than a few seconds per person.
Neuroscience has shown that our words matter in how we form our attitudes. You can be aware that you are grateful, but that awareness is much less impactful than when you say the words, in relationship with others.
We have always done this in our family get-togethers, and as our kids have gotten older, they have taken that tradition for themselves.
One caveat: everyone has to come up with something unique. No saying "I agree with what he said."
· Tell someone thanks for a character trait that you appreciate. Just single out one that has made a difference with you. Be specific about it: "You are kind to your friends"; "You see the good in me when I'm down on myself"; "You work hard and do your best"; "You have a positive attitude."
It's easy to just assume that people know how much they matter to you. However, you will be surprised with the response you get from them. People are simply hungry for someone to specifically mention the good things in them.
· Carve out service. Your community has lots of opportunities to give to those who are having a difficult Thanksgiving. Find service organizations and churches that have activities, from providing a meal to the hungry to visiting those whose parents may be in prison, to being with the homeless.
It is hard to be self-centered when you have others around you whose life problems are so overwhelming. Altruism and service actually act as an antidepressant to our internal systems. Feeling that you have helped someone a bit, who has nothing to offer you, creates a sense of mattering and well-being.
So have a wonderful holiday, eat lots of incredible food, and watch some great sports. And add these extras above, to the season. You will help yourself and others to get past the entitlement issue.
Dr. John Townsend is the New York Times bestselling author of "Boundaries" and the newly released, "The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success In Doing Hard Things the Right Way" (Zondervan, October 2015).