Bringing Gratitude to Thanksgiving
“I have amazing friends,” “I am grateful for our home and our community,” and “Grateful for E and Dad’s day in nature.” These were some of my son’s reflections that showed up in our Thanksgiving tree where we write notes on each day of the month of November to share what we are grateful for as a family. We have been writing these notes in November since E was in preschool and each year, we get excited to open the past year’s gratitude notes to learn what we were thinking this time last year.
Noticing, I recently learned, is a critical step, but only one in completing a full circle experience of gratitude. Gratitude scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Angela Hussong and her colleagues teach that gratitude is a process of noticing, thinking (or reflecting), feeling, and then doing – or taking action.
As I talk to other parents about their hopes for their family, they want to raise kids who are appreciative of their lives and their hard work. So we know it’s a parenting priority. But if that weren’t enough, there are numerous benefits to encouraging gratitude in family life. In fact, research studies show that a regular sense of gratitude contributes to a person’s health and well-being including their happiness, their ability to sleep at night, and their sense of self-worth. In addition, gratitude nourishes our relationships improving partnerships and friendships and lowering stress even in our toughest times. We gain a sense of optimism and hope that impacts how we interact with others.
In this season of thanking and giving, it may just be the opportune time to reflect on your own gratitude practices. After all, these do not only impact you but your entire family. Why not use this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to begin to notice, think, feel, and do gratefulness in your family life? In addition to the green bean casserole or the rolls, this is what I plan to bring my family’s Thanksgiving gathering.
Here are some simple ideas for each of the areas of noticing, thinking, feeling and doing. Pick one that might feel right and good. Try it out and see if you might fall in love with the practice along with your family members so that you continue it well beyond the holidays.
Appreciative Travel – Many will be hitting the road or the friendly skies this holiday season to visit family and friends who live elsewhere. Instead of plugging into media and tuning out each other, why not use some of that time to notice and reflect on the goodness of this past year? You might ask, “What were some of the highlight moments for our family?” “When do you recall laughing together?” “What was a pleasant surprise?” or “In what moments did you feel most grateful?’
Food Origins – Have you ever considered all of the individuals that were involved in getting the food on your table from the farm to you? What if you introduced that reflection at your Thanksgiving table this year. How many individuals can you notice, think about and name who were involved in and responsible for growing the green beans, packaging them up, shipping them to your local store, displaying them, and selling them to you? Trace the origins of one of your favorite foods and appreciate the people who worked hard to contribute to your bounty.
Everyday Goodness – It’s easy and typical to take our day-to-day experiences, interactions, and contributions to our household for granted. Those small actions are the way we get through our days. But what if we began to notice those little ways that each family member adds goodness to our lives? Did your son take his dishes to the sink without prompting? Did your partner rake the leaves while you were out? What if you began to start the phrase “I notice…” and added in those small acts of goodness. Family members might feel truly appreciated and I’ll bet you’ll feel good too!
Appreciative Mindset – As we enter larger family or friend gatherings, we might bring worries about judgments of our own lives or be tempted to dread those little aspects of others that bother us. But we don’t have to enter in this way. What if you did an inventory of the people who will be around your family table and pointed out each of their best, more generous and contributing qualities? This is another reflection you could do during the time you are traveling or getting ready. Family members are likely to feel your sense of appreciation for them as you sit with them and focus on their best. This can be an outstanding model of preparing your mindset for success for your children.
Acceptance Mindset – But of course, there are always those aspects of family or friend gatherings that you might anticipate will be stressful or undesirable. Perhaps you know you will be judged by your appearance, by your parenting style, or your lack of progress at work? Instead of dreading those interactions, when those thoughts arise, decide to accept where others will be – their thoughts, feelings, and conversations realizing you always have a choice to politely move on, change the subject, or move away. This thought can help you feel empowered as you know you can face any challenge by setting healthy boundaries for yourself and your children in kind ways and accepting where others are as they are.
Pitch-In – Yes, contributing your time, energy and sweat equity to any endeavor will enhance your appreciation for it. So plan to pitch in. Whether it’s helping to entertain the kids, caring for a family baby, doing the dishes, or divvying up leftovers, there are more than enough jobs to go around your holiday celebration.
Serve – Gratitude can best be shown and experienced by connecting with and contributing to others’ lives. So look around at the needs in your neighborhood, school, and community this season. How can you involve your family in contributing to others’ lives? This question more than any wrapped presents you plan to give will offer your children the authentic experience of “doing,” showing, and enacting gratitude.
As for me, I need to express my gratitude to you, dear reader, confident parent, lifelong learner and contributor to this dialogue. Our learning community enriches my family life and my own sense of well-being every day and for that, I am so grateful for six years of community with you!
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours for those who celebrate it! And for those outside of the U.S., your participation in this community is vital and continues to enrich our perspectives. I am grateful for you!
Hussong, Andrea (2018). Raising Grateful Children. Retrieved from http://hussong.web.unc.edu/drrl/rgc/ on November 21, 2018.
Hussong, A.M., Langley, H.A., Coffman, J.L., Halberstadt, A.G., & Costanzo, P.R. (2018). Parent socialization of children’s gratitude. In J. Tudge and L. Freitas (Eds.), Developing Gratitude, (pp. 199-219). Cambridge University Press.