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Three Ways to Give Thanks this Hanukkah

November 24, 2013 | by Debbie Gutfreund

Hanukkah is a special time for us to say thank You for all the little and big miracles in our lives.

I was sitting in a taxi on my way to Jerusalem. The traffic was growing slower, and I began to worry that I would be late for my clients. It was my first year working as a family therapist, and I had begged my supervisor not to assign me any Hebrew speaking clients. My Hebrew was decent but definitely not good enough to understand the necessary emotional nuances in therapy sessions. The couple that I was about to meet was the one exception on my English-speaking client list, and I was really struggling with them. Every time I met with them they would begin fighting in rapid Hebrew as soon as they sat down. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

My cell phone rang as the taxi inched its way forward on the road. It was my supervisor. “Can you please just assign them to another therapist who can actually understand what they’re saying?” I pleaded with her.

“You can do it. Your Hebrew is good enough. You just need to be a little more confident. Don’t give up so easily.” Her voice sounded a million miles away as I glanced anxiously out the window and hung up the phone.

The taxi driver looked at me in his rearview mirror. “Giveret, what’s wrong? Did you forget to say thank You to God today?”

I stared at his bare head and glittering Chai necklace. What was he talking about?

“Do you think that today is just another day? Do you think He made these beautiful mountains with this sun setting into them for you to look out the window and frown at the wonders of the Creator? What happened?”

We were always fighting. Because we didn’t know how to say thank you. Not to God. Not to each other.

At first I was so surprised, I couldn’t speak. But then I decided to tell him in my halting Hebrew about my clients.

“I had a marriage like that too. We were always fighting. I can’t even remember what we used to fight about. But always fighting. And Giveret, I will tell you why. Because we didn’t know how to say thank you. Not to God. Not to each other. I’m divorced three years now, but it didn’t have to be this way.”

I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry,” I finally answered.

This seemed to be the wrong response because the driver began yelling. “No Giveret, don’t be sorry! It doesn’t help to be sorry. Help them. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and help them. Here take this.”

The driver turned around and gave me a tiny blue key chain that had the words “Thank You” written on it in Hebrew.

“I can’t take this,” I said, trying to give it back to him.

“Take it! Give it to them.”

“No, you don’t understand. A therapist can’t give gifts to her clients. It doesn’t work that way.”

But he waved his hand in protest as we pulled up to the office building. “Remember what I said, Giveret. The Creator doesn’t make mistakes. Don’t forget. Today is not just another day.”

Hesitantly, I slipped the keychain into my pocket and braced myself for the coming session.

As soon as the couple sat down, they started to argue. I wasn’t even sure that they knew that I was there. After a few minutes, I finally spoke up.

“I don’t understand a word you guys are saying.”

The husband stopped yelling in mid-sentence as they turned to face me.

“Which part didn’t you understand?” the wife asked.

“All of it. Since you walked into the office. I don’t even know what you’re arguing about.”

They stared at me in silence. I was so embarrassed. The room began to feel like it was closing in on me. Maybe I should have kept quiet.

“Have you tried thanking each other for the little things?” I stammered in my American- accented Hebrew. The husband erupted.

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. Now I believe you. You haven’t heard anything we said. Our problems aren’t going to go away from thanking each other! Besides what do I have to thank her for?”

I wanted to sink into my chair, but then the wife looked at her husband with a half -smile. “Hold on, maybe there is something here. It’s true we don’t say thank you. Maybe we can try.”

I pulled out the key chain from the cab driver. The husband reached for it and cradled the tiny blue letters in his hand. “Thank you,” he read out loud, and for the first time he smiled, putting the keychain inside his pocket.

Sometimes I wonder where that tiny keychain is today. And I often think about the cab driver’s words. Today is not just another day. Say thank You. This sky. This sun. This gift of gratitude. It was made just for you.

Hanukkah & Giving Thanks

Hanukkah is a special time for us to say thank You for all the little and big miracles in our lives. When we look into the beautiful, pure flames of the candles we remember that no day is just another day. There are blessings around all of us every moment, just waiting for us to notice them.

This year during Hanukkah, consider the following three ways to say thank you. (And not only on Thanksgiving.)

1. Write a letter.

In a recent experiment, people were asked to write a short paragraph about someone who had transformed their lives. After they wrote the paragraph, the experimenter handed them a phone and told them to call the person that they just wrote about and read them what they had just written. Some of them didn’t know the number. Some people went to cemeteries to read their letter at the gravesite of the person they hoped could hear their appreciation. Others reached the person they wrote about and broke down crying as they read their words out loud.

Across the board, the participants’ happiness levels rose by as much as 20 percent just from this exercise. So try writing a short Hanukkah card or email to someone that changed your life. It’s best if you send it, but even just writing it reminds us how blessed we are to have inspiring people in our lives.

2. Keep a gratitude journal.

On each day of Hanukkah, write down three new things that you are grateful for each day. This trains our brains to search for the positive in our lives. After a month of keeping a gratitude journal, people begin to think more optimistically and clearly. They stop constantly scanning the environment for the negative, and they notice others’ strengths instead of their weaknesses. The half hour after lighting the candles is a special time for thinking about the new blessings of today. Share them with your family as you sit around the menorah. We look into the flames shining with hope, and we remember our own ability to turn darkness into light.

3. Act gratefully.

Do one small act of kindness each day of Hanukkah. Open a door for someone. Leave a note somewhere that will make someone smile. Pay for the person’s coffee who is behind you in line. Take a coat you never wear and give it to someone on the street. Give an anonymous donation. Smile. Send a Hanukkah gift to someone who needs it. These small actions increase our own feelings of gratitude and create a chain of kindness.

And like the tiny, blue keychain, we never know how far our gratitude will go. Take this gift and pass it on.

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