Ways to Give Thanks and Give Back This Fall

Fall presents us with a unique opportunity to give thanks. November, especially, is focused on gratitude and remembering the many things that we all too often take for granted in life. But what if instead of stopping at simply giving thanks, we use that gratitude as a springboard for giving back?

Below, I share some of the things for which I’m grateful — and ways I hope to use that gratitude to serve others. I challenge you, too, to pause in your day to recognize the good that you have and then to challenge yourself to share that good with others.

I am grateful for a place to call home.

My wife and I bought our first house this year, joining a rather privileged group of individuals called homeowners. It’s a privilege neither of us take for granted — and it’s an accomplishment for which we are very proud and grateful. Unfortunately, we see in the news so many families who have lost their homes to recent hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, and more.

So, contribute to the rebuilding of others’ homes. I recommend giving to the One America Appeal, sponsored by the five living former U.S. presidents to help hurricane victims across the country. Habitat for Humanity is another great option.  

I am grateful for good meals and good company.

Hospitality is important to my wife and me, and we enjoy both inviting friends into our home to share a meal and being invited into the homes of others. But good meals can be expensive and good company elusive for so many folks, especially around this time of year.

So, volunteer at a local soup kitchen — and try to do so consistently.  Get to know the folks who pass through the lines; learn their names and their stories. You’re not simply there to distribute food. You’re there to be a companion to another soul on life’s journey.

I am grateful for a supportive community.

As someone who has been overwhelmed by the kindness of friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors as my wife and I prepare for the birth of our first child, I try not to take the support of my community for granted. I need to constantly remind myself how much of my own daily triumphs are really a credit to the good people who kindly continue to surround me.

So, build up your own community. That might mean picking up the trash that litters your streets. That might mean reaching out to a new colleague. That might mean simply smiling at strangers you pass on your block.

How do you give back?

I am grateful for education.

My wife and I both completed graduate programs this year — another privilege that we don’t take for granted. In both of our lines of work — hers in social work, mine in international development — we know the life-changing value of education, and how difficult a good education is to access for so many around the world.

So, mentor others. There’s no shortage of great mentoring opportunities, both at the local and national levels. We know that young people are more likely to thrive when they are surrounded by a network of supportive adults. Why not use your time and experiences to build up a young person’s future?

I am grateful for life’s simple comforts.

I need my midday coffee. Not necessarily for the caffeine boost, but more so because I enjoy getting out of the office and clearing my head. Those walks for coffee in the middle of a workday, those happy hours with colleagues after long hours in the office: these are some of the simple pleasures that make my day — and maybe yours — just a touch easier. But we know not everyone has even these small luxuries.

So, give that comfort to others. Consider bypassing that morning coffee or happy hour beer and using the money saved to make small comfort kits for those who go without. Fill some old grocery bags with healthy snacks, bottles of water, mittens, and hats and distribute them to the women and men you pass during your day who are experiencing homelessness.  

This holiday season, take some time to reflect on what you’re grateful for. Then, commit to turning that gratitude into an opportunity to give back.