Many of us in the United States are preparing for the November marathon known as Thanksgiving. While not as intensive as Christmas, it still involves (assuming you’ve invited people over): inviting guests, scanning recipes, cleaning the house, buying and preparing food, and of course, the big clean-up–among other tasks.

If you’re going out for dinner, the burden might be a little less. In any case, you still have to ready your stomach for the big day when you’ll eat more at one meal than would feed a small village in Somalia.

Normally, doing a marathon requires training in advance. Nobody I know goes out and says, “I haven’t been running at all recently, but maybe I’ll run 26 miles today.”

Don’t wait to train! With under a week to go, you can start your Thanksgiving training NOW. Because at the heart of the day (I hope!) is the act of giving thanks.

I love the T-day ritual of inviting guests at the dining table to share one thing they are grateful for. Usually, it’s big stuff: “I am grateful we’re all together,” or medically-related happy news – “I’m grateful that Emily’s knee has healed,” or “Mom has recovered from her stroke,” or the almost-too-personal, “I’m grateful that I met Ted last year.” (Spoken with suitably dewy eyes.)

Then, it’s your turn to share–which is why you should go into training today. You don’t want to panic, go brain-dead, and resort to saying the only thing you can think of: “The brussels sprouts?”

Or, perhaps worse, you let loose a flood of appreciations that you’ve been meaning to say but haven’t:

“I’d like to thank Rob, the produce guy at the Thriftway for teaching me how to recognize a ripe mango, and for Don (name changed to protect the innocent) for always having a pun-in-need, and for that woman on the bus who gave me the biggest smile when I sat down and seemed to know that I was having a terrible day, and for the fact that Winston’s limp did not require a trip to the vet and for…”

Unfortunately, at this point guests will be staring at their plates, discovering, with less than delight, how gravy congeals as it cools and how mashed potatoes harden. The smiles on their faces are melting faster than an ice-cream cone on a hot August day. The person waiting her turn next to you has gone to sleep.

The point is: you need practice at finding and expressing your thanks.

Gratitude is a muscle that needs development, like any other.

To get you on a roll, I’m offering three unusual but crazy-easy ways that you can use today to start developing that muscle.

Appreciate and thank a service worker.

Service workers are often found at the bottom rung of the pay ladder in our culture and deserve a lot more respect than they typically receive. The Somalian and Filipina aides at my mother’s assisted living center were my heroes, regularly touching me with their kindness. Paid barely minimum wage, they provided the care that allowed the facility to run. (I’m teary-eyed thinking about them).

Appreciating a service worker puts you in touch with the eco-system that was created to enable you to have or buy the things you need.

We may give thanks for the turkey on our plates, but do we really consider what farmers put into buying, raising, vaccinating, feeding and delivering livestock? (Not to mention the turkey’s contribution.) Or the chain of marketers, distributors, planners, grocery stockers, and cashiers whose work is essential for us to have our feasts or any other meals we might choose? They all deserve our thanks.

As you advance in thanks-training, more and more eco-systems will be revealed, and you will discover how thousands of people are working for you. Time to appreciate them.

But today, keep it simple. Just thank someone on the service frontline who may not receive adequate thanks for the hard work he or she does.

2) Thank your food and play with it.

Yes, your mother probably wouldn’t approve. But play isn’t just kids’ stuff. Play gets us out of our heads, into our senses and opens our imaginations. Play can increase our appreciation for what we might otherwise take for granted. Touch your food, move it around on your plate, roll it around in your mouth, and then taste it VERY slowly. Imagine alternative uses for your food, like becoming a projectile missile, although you don’t need to activate that one.

Explore the delight of slurping your noodles, best done in private unless you’re in Japan, where you’ll be welcomed like one of the gang. Enjoy the feeling of drops of broth running off your lips or a wayward noodle stuck to the edges of your chin. Your senses will be grateful for the extra attention.

Why play? It slooooows me down and invites me to notice what is before me with more appreciation. Instead of sit-cut-talk-eat or other forms of fueling while on auto-pilot, I activate my senses of touch, taste, smell, and sight when I play. A world awaits me as I roll my pea. My plate becomes a playground. What a pleasure that is!

Now you can give thanks, both for the magic of your food and because you may have rediscovered what it is to eat with child-like imagination.

3) Appreciate you being you.

If you’re like me, you may have a two-column chart in your mind: left column–failings; right column–what you appreciate about yourself. I bet the results are skewed. Today, dump the left column. Because you’re in gratitude-training, your job is to acknowledge and appreciate how much you have given, tried, failed but tried again, learned, offered the world, etc.

Although this practice might seem self-indulgent, I assure you that the larger the reservoir of self-gratitude we have, the more gratitude we can share with others.

This exercise can be surprisingly hard because we often fail to acknowledge what we do naturally well. My husband forgets that his kindness, generosity towards others, ability to really listen, and concern for the world are amazing gifts. He tends to write them off by saying “That’s just what I do,” as if only banner-worthy accomplishments matter.

Whereas accomplishments in the newspaper headlines quickly fade away, simple, often unseen, acts of kindness warm our hearts and make the world go round.

Please take a moment to note and appreciate any small, even seemingly mundane parts of the greatness that goes into “you-being-you.”

I could keep going with the list–and offer you lots more training opportunities. But I’ll hold for now (Check out the very fun e-book The Game of Thanks by Lynda Tourloukis–part of the inspiration for this blog.)

Just one more thanks. I’m so grateful for you. You read this blog. I can’t tell you enough how much that means to me.

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