Since November is the month of Thanksgiving or Giving Thanks, this is a wonderful time to center our lives on gratitude. It can be difficult, though, to see how to be thankful when life continues to throw you off track. Although we may be thinking about what we are missing and feeling a sense of loss, we can choose to focus on what we do have and create ways of connecting and giving that will be meaningful.
Maybe the recent political climate took a toll on you. Now is time to move forward. You may be preparing to celebrate the upcoming holidays, possibly not surrounded by family and friends, but you’ll still celebrate – differently. Figuring out ways to move on in a world in which we have little control can give our days more meaning. For example, you may find gratitude by giving of your time to others and controlling that choice.
Perhaps, though, we can start with ourselves. One of the simplest proven activities that can impact an individual’s sense of well-being is at the end of each day, write down 5 things that you are grateful for. Instead of going to sleep thinking about what went wrong or what needs to be done, we each have the capacity to scan and focus on those things for which we are thankful. As we approach Thanksgiving, this could be converted into an individual or family activity by having a gratitude question of the day: What technology, memory, food, activity, skill, story, music, ability, art, weather, season, tree, or small thing are you grateful for? Each of these areas enable our minds to be aware of our blessings.
For Thanksgiving, we can also make ways to express gratitude and create a family activity that everyone can participate in, whether in person or virtually. If it is virtual, each person, whether child or adult, could bring to the table a picture or an object that represents what they are grateful for and say why. Another way of highlighting gratitude is to have everyone put one thing or a phrase that reminds them of something they are grateful for in a Gratitude Jar and then read it and save it year to year.
Whatever we choose, we still have the capacity to come together. Although we may be physically distant, we can still socially connect.
Particularly during this pandemic. We may have more time to reach out to family, friends, and individuals who have influenced our lives and share why we are grateful for their past or present presence. Why wait for a funeral to reflect on what they mean to us? In the act of acknowledging someone else’s contribution, we affirm the value and meaning of relationships. It makes both parties happier, now.
Of course, let’s not forget how random acts of kindness can enrich all of our lives. From opening a door, to letting someone in line in front of you, to wishing someone a good day or saying thank you to someone who has helped you. Possibilities exist everywhere to help someone have a brighter day. “Thank you!” is still a magic word.
Giving, doing things for others, appreciating and valuing people and the world around us, taking a positive approach, and being part of something bigger – all these can happen through volunteering. Therefore, let’s be grateful for living in Princeton and all the volunteer opportunities that exist in the many non-profits, religious groups, and local government. All of these organizations and resources can use your involvement and provide you benefits in return – you can feel like you are doing something tangible, feel like you have a say in the future.
A volunteer is a human gift. One cannot pay someone to care. What better way to give thanks than to give your time and talent to an organization that matches your values, skills sets or areas of concern. Whether it be the environment, education, drugs and alcohol, food, the arts, drama, music, equity, housing, youth, seniors, welfare, sports, or racial justice – all these areas have needs for volunteers posted on their websites. Now it’s even more important with increased challenges that COVID has presented, we come together and help make our community work. By doing good, we feel good and help provide much needed services.
There are many ways to volunteer and find meaningful work. Last year Princeton High School students volunteered over 25,000 hours. In 2021 Mayor Mark Freida will be making new appointments to commissions, openings may arise on committees, and there is a chance to get involved and help direct the future of many aspects of our great town. From The Neighborhood Buddy Initiative to the volunteer Fire Department and the Human Service Commission, there are multiple ways to get involved and all government-affiliated options are listed on www.princetonnj.gov.
Look on the bright side of the pandemic and the virtual atmosphere surrounding us all. If you have marketing or technology skills, many non-profits may benefit from your help as they redirect their planning and events online.
In particular, Princeton Community Works has a non-profit conference for over 500 volunteers, Board and staff members which will be virtual January 25th and 26th. They need over 30 tech-savvy Zoom individuals to facilitate workshops and breakout rooms. The Princeton Senior Resource Center also needs technical individuals to help seniors.
Whether you’ve always been a lover of the great outdoors or have gained a newfound appreciation in this COVID climate, Friends of Princeton Open Space is always looking for people to help with trail clearing and removing invasive plants. Sustainable Princeton also utilizes volunteers at recycling events and engages with citizen scientists – for example with help mapping storm drains.
Witherspoon- Jackson Historical and Cultural Society volunteers are wanted to help with research and preservation of African American history in Princeton and The Historical Society of Princeton can use tour guides and garden volunteers. Also, Not in Our Town seeks people to advocate for social justice. There’s so many opportunities and they’re all something to be grateful for!
Finally, I would like to caution you that each of us can be contagious by spreading positive or toxic words or behaviors. Let’s build our Princeton community based on an attitude of gratitude, an appreciation and respect for differences, the belief that each person regardless of age, race or economics deserves respect and has something to offer.
I still remember when I was running activities for at-risk children at an after-school program when a 6-year old asked me, “Can I carry something for you?” In giving and receiving, both parties benefit. To me this symbolizes we all have the capacity to help lift someone else’s burden, or as Maya Angelou said, “Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”
May we make gratitude, kindness, and appreciation contagious. Happy Thanksgiving.
Marge Smith has been very involved in volunteering in the Princeton Community. Over the years, she has served as President of the Corner House Board, Princeton YWCA, John Witherspoon PTO, Princeton Regional School Board, and Princeton Human Services Commission and is a member of the Rotary Club of Princeton. She also was the Executive Director of the Princeton YWCA. Currently, she teaches non-profit management at MCCC, is a non-profit consultant and the Founder and Chair of Princeton Community Works, an all-volunteer group. She has seen how volunteers can transform community and individual’s lives and is deeply grateful for their amazing gifts of time and talents.