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Gratitude Practice Twelve Years in the Making

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

I have always loved Thanksgiving. Growing up, we didn’t observe many of the typical traditions. My Chilean parents never watched football, and no green bean nor sweet potato casserole, stuffing of any ilk, nor pumpkin pie ever graced our table. The giving thanks part wasn’t prominent either. But turkey and potatoes were easy to adopt, as was the custom of gathering with the families who became our tribe in the U.S. The holiday felt warm, inclusive and accessible. To me Thanksgiving represents family, community you choose and a melding of culture. And I like to think that’s an authentic reflection of the spirit of the Wampanoag people, who nurtured the newly arrived Pilgrims.

When my Thanksgiving hosting career kicked off in 2006 I was pregnant with my son, and that prompted me to think about if or how to be more intentional about incorporating gratitude into my holiday of community and culture. Over the years, preschool and Pinterest inspired trees of thanks, crafts with inspirational quotes and the tradition of sharing our gratitudes around the table.

It wasn’t until 2013, when a therapist counseled my husband and I to express our gratitude to and for each other every day, that I really considered being intentional about gratitude on days that weren’t Thanksgiving. We followed lots of her great advice, but we didn’t incorporate that practice.

When I started more formal mindfulness training and reading, the topic of gratitude returned en force, with a trove of scientific data in tow. Researchers have found that people with “grateful dispositions... sleep better, are less depressed, have less fatigue, have more self-confidence to take care of themselves and have less systemic inflammation.*” Plus, my recent trauma had already given me a glimpse into the power of gratitude.

But, still, I didn’t really define an intention around doing it regularly until last month. My daughter confided her struggle to find satisfaction in the moment, often wishing she is someplace else, which is pretty heavy self-awareness for a 9 year old. I had just listened to an interview with happiness researcher Dr. Shawn Achor, who shared the power of expressing three gratitudes daily. The “criteria” is that your gratitude be specific, current (helps create the habit of regularly scanning for positive experiences), new (no repeats) and you must include why you’re grateful for it (reinforces meaning). Propelled by bribery (V-Bucks for my son, unicorn cupcake for my daughter), we all agreed to institute a regular practice at the dinner table. It’s too early to tell if it’s made anyone happier, but it has made the dinner conversation more varied and interesting, and we’re keeping it going.

Are you thinking about incorporating a gratitude practice? Here are a few suggested approaches.

  • Write it down. I know people who write it down on a little piece of paper and put it in a jar, to enjoy watching it fill up over time. Others keep a dedicated journal by their bed to note thoughts upon waking or before lying down to sleep. If you want to share your gratitude with others, send a note via text, email, snail mail or courier.

  • Say it out loud. Tell a loved one each day why you appreciate her/him. Take turns around the table at a meal time. Talk to yourself. Share it with a furry friend or the great outdoors.

  • Leverage technology. Like everything else, there’s an app (or web site) for it: My Gratitude Journal, Gratitude!, Live Happy are a few of very many.

  • Meditate on it. Try this 11-minute audio practice by Dr. Kathi Kemper, one from Jack Kornfield that you can use to guide yourself or a 6-minute video from Deepak Chopra.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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