On Thanksgiving weekend, in cities and towns across the country, 5Ks and family strolls - often referred to as "Turkey Trots" - bring together thousands of runners, walkers, and families to burn off a few calories and offset their feasts.
In addition to the exercise, participation usually includes support for a worthy cause, serving as a reminder of our own life’s blessings.
Throughout the race course, a phenomenon occurs between the participants, and the public safety officials tasked with securing the intersections along the route.
Over and over, at each intersection, runners and walkers say “thank you” and wave to the men and women protecting them from traffic.
Thousands of runners equates to thousands of “thank yous” and waves of appreciation.
As a Civilian employee of a Sheriff’s Office, I have only experienced this phenomenon of gratitude from the perspective of the runner. And with each race, I probably look a little closer at the public safety officers than most, not wanting to miss a special “hello” or (pre-pandemic) high-five with one of my colleagues and friends.
As I pondered this topic, one of my colleagues who has worked countless 5Ks over the years, stood out to me. First of all, because I’ve seen him on the course of more races than any other person I know. Second, because each time I’ve seen him on the course, I’ve noticed the way that he radiates with joy, and brings joy to those passing by, including myself.
I asked him how it feels to have 1,000 people tell you “thank you,” and he said “it makes you feel good and proud of the work that you are doing,” noting that the hugs and excitement from kids during family strolls still bring butterflies to his stomach.
But those aren’t just butterflies -
It’s dopamine and serotonin, two of our “happy hormones” which studies have shown are released to the brain both in the giving and receiving of gratitude.
Amidst a pandemic, this Thanksgiving is likely to feel pretty different than years past. But we don’t need a 5K to begin sharing our gratitude for one another. And we don’t need a traditional meal to feel thanks for the blessings in our lives.
Knowing that it feels as good for the brain to give thanks as it does to receive thanks, why not treat life as if it is a running course, saying "thank you" to the people at every intersection of your day?
Make it a point to show gratitude to your family and friends, both near and far. Say a special “thank you” to your colleagues at work, especially those who would expect it the least.
Take your “thank you” off of autopilot, and allow yourself to feel genuine gratitude towards the person who hands you your coffee, or checks you out at the store.
When you arrive home, take a moment before going inside to be grateful for the roof over your head. Be grateful for your food. Be grateful that there are organizations in your community that help others meet these basic needs as well.
And before you go to bed, take a moment to feel gratitude for yourself. Thank yourself waking up, and for showing up in the world. Thank yourself for the things that you do to make the world a little better, and make life a little better for yourself and those around you.
As we move through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, though it may not feel the same as usual, remember the words of writer William Arthur Ward who said,
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
Written by Katie Carlson
Katie Carlson is the Public Information Officer for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in Indianapolis, IN. She is also a certified yoga instructor and contributing writer to the Yoga For First Responders® blog.