On Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Gratitude Image, Heart in hands

As the calendar turns to November, thoughts naturally turn to Thanksgiving—a time dedicated to gathering with family and friends, enjoying a bountiful feast, and giving thanks. While much could be said about Thanksgiving—its history, its meaning, its substantive imperfections—the focus here is on gratitude and the act of giving thanks.

When considering gratitude, people often express a universal appreciation for family, friends, health and happiness. The results of my very small, very unscientific and last-minute survey about gratitude at HWFC recently revealed another theme:  gratitude for the Co-op’s existence.  My questionnaire asked staff, members and customers to complete the following sentences:  “At HWFC, I’m grateful for…” and “Other stuff I’m grateful for…”

The vast majority of respondents shared heartfelt appreciation for the Co-op’s people, services and atmosphere, including:

  • “The Member-Owners are helpful, making this store one of a kind!”
  • “[I’m grateful for] the feeling of community when I’m in the store as a Member-Worker and as a shopper. It’s a great place to talk with friends and neighbors.”
  • “My awesome co-workers make HWFC a great place to be each day!”
  • “It’s my happy place; no matter what’s going on in my life, coming [to the Co-op] helps me feel centered; it’s consistently one of the best times of my week.”
  • From a supervisor: “[I’m grateful for] my team—without them I’d be unable to function as a normal human [being].”
  • “The store and bathrooms are always super clean.”
  • “Great customer service, shopper’s helpers, and community spirit.”
  • “My boss, Katie, who proved she’s got her staff’s back by protecting my discount before I even met her!”
  • “The people at HWFC smile more and listen better.”
  • “The opportunity to work with awesome people at a great place.”

Another consistent theme was appreciation for the generous selection of healthy and organic options:

  • “The quality of produce and products [is] unmatched in the region.”
  • “Good produce and cheese.”
  • “A meat department that ensures more kindness in the food chain.”
  • “Sugar (sucrose) alternatives, samples, gluten free baked goods, bulk, cat grass.
  • “The network of farmers that give us a 7-day farmers’ market.”
  • “The great plants—inside and out.”
  • “COFFEE!”
  • “Having so many organic products available to us; [healthy food] is very important to me because I’ve had an organ transplant.”
  • “The huge bulk department.”
  • “[The] Wellness [Department] staff is so knowledgeable and helpful; they keep my family healthy and save me lots of time.”
  • “[Making] healthy, alternative foods [available] in the Capital Region.”

Some expressed gratitude for the way the Co-op enriches and educates:

  • “The people I have met here while working have taught me so much…about myself and food. I’m thankful for my Co-op family and friends.”
  • “The workshops, cooking classes, and wide variety of educational opportunities.”
  • “I’m grateful for the “opportunity for members to share talents, skills and interests.”
  • “Being a Member-[Owner] keeps bringing me to the Co-op, which provides me with regular opportunities for healthier shopping.”
  • I appreciate “the special attention paid to kids, including the kid-sized shopping carts, stickers and kid-friendly events.”
  • The “different people…make my job interesting.”
  • “I like being able to share something valuable that other stores don’t provide—making customers [unfamiliar with the Co-op] feel at home and sharing information on all the Co-op offers.”

Visiting Co-op members and seasonal residents expressed a marked preference for HWFC over other co-ops and grocery stores:

  • “HWFC is my family’s favorite co-op by far. We travel south every year, stopping at three other co-ops along the way. I appreciate the organic and vegan food options for my healthy family.”
  • “I have a greater appreciation for the Co-op because I miss it so much when I’m away during winter months and my only option is ‘regular’ grocery stores.”

In terms of “other stuff” people expressed gratitude for:

  • One member shared that “[e]very day is a good day on this side of the dirt!”
  • One manager expressed gratitude for his “amazing looks.” (Sorry, we don’t have a picture!)
  • Another member enjoys “living in one of the prettiest areas in the US, skiing, and NOT living in Florida.”
  • A staffer expressed gratitude for his “social network of friends and family, [whose] support allows [him] great privilege to pursue [his] dreams.”

Member/cashier Al DeSalvo noted “the value of people isn’t what they do or how much money they make but how they treat other people, animals and the planet.” Based on the responses to this little survey, it seems fair to say kindness and compassion abound at the HWFC. I, for one, am very grateful for that.

Expanding Our Experience of Gratitude

While our survey solicited only positive feedback, circumstances don’t always lend themselves to the expression of gratitude. In those circumstances, Rumi, a 13th century poet and Sufi mystic, in his poem “The Guest House” (included below), suggests gratitude is a useful and worthwhile exercise in every case.

“The Guest House” by Rumi
(Translated by Coleman Barks)

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of all of its furniture.
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

In the context Rumi presents, every experience is ripe with opportunities for learning and growth and, by extension, deserving of gratitude. Whether or not we believe “guides from beyond” are facilitating our personal growth, perhaps we can agree that adopting a ‘gratitude lens’ through which to view ourselves, each other and the world in which we live is a worthwhile exercise. Based on the comments we received on gratitude at HWFC, it seems our Co-op community already has a good head start in this process.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey. Wishing a gratitude-filled and happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

To read more on gratitude…
“Six Habits of Highly Grateful People” by Jeremy Adam Smith, The Utne Reader, December 18, 2013.
“How to Have a Shareable Thanksgiving” by Cat Johnson, The Utne Reader, November 21, 2012.
“The Power of Casual Gratitude” by Julie Beck, The Atlantic, June 27, 2016
“A Nihilist’s Guide to Gratitude: Abandon expectations, appreciate everything.” By James Hamblin, The Atlantic, July 29, 2015
“Be Grateful for Life: One postcard from The Look for the Good Project expresses the importance of being grateful for life.” By Anne O. Kubitsky, The Utne Reader, June 2014.
“The Glass Half Full,” by Morgon Mae Schultz, The Utne Reader, March/April 2006.
“Gratitude Can Save Your Life” by Jason Marsh, Devan Davison, Bianca Lorenz, Lauren Klein, Jeremy Adam Smith, Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas. The Utne Reader, January 31, 2014.
“How to Write a Gratitude List” by Meredith Gould from Vegetarian Times, The Utne Reader, March-April 2000.
“The Geography of Gratitude: What Americans in every state are thankful for, according to Facebook.” By Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, November 26, 2014.
“Gratitude without God: If giving thanks isn’t inherently religious, where does it come from?” By Emma Green, The Atlantic, November 26, 2014.
“How to Teach Kids to be Grateful: Give Them Less: Toys can help children learn to be thankful for what they have.” By Jenn Choi, The Atlantic, November 27, 2014.
“Choosing to Be Happy: THXTHXTHX and Daily Gratitude” By Maria Popova, The Atlantic, June 2, 2011.

Stephanie Conde has been a Shareholder of the Co-op for about a decade and a Member for about a year. She fulfills her member hours as a cashier on Wednesday mornings and as a staff writer for “The Voice.” Stephanie also works as an independent consultant, providing research, writing and editing services to educational institutions and others.