Thanksgiving – More Than Just A Turkey
9 Simple Ways To Nourish A Spirit Of Gratitude Beyond The Holiday Festivities
“Thanksgiving.” A word that instantly fills our bellies, warms our hearts, and somehow illuminates our minds with glimmers of gilded gold and burnt orange leaves.
By far though, the most common image associated with the word “Thanksgiving” is – you guessed it – the turkey! Seriously, what would Thanksgiving be without its succulent main course? It wouldn’t be the same, and let’s not pretend differently.
But let’s do pretend for a minute that when we hear someone say “Thanksgiving,” our first thought is “gratitude,” “gratefulness,” or “appreciation.” Sure, these aren’t as enticing as a pumpkin pie recipe on Pinterest, but deep down, fostering a spirit of Thanks is something we all want; we gather because we want something more than a delicious meal.
Thankfulness is highly linked to happiness. How can we resolve to practice the art of Thanksgiving in our daily life? How can we make this holiday something we celebrate not just yearly, but monthly, daily, or even moment-by-moment? We’ve pulled together 9 simple, unconventional ways to feed our inner attitude of gratitude.
1. BE PRESENT
A long, long time ago, before texting and Instagram, strangers made eye contact in doctor’s offices, and people focused on the road. They also had time to stop, and be present.
Boredom and silence are opportunities to be still and reflect, and the first step in acquiring a true spirit of Thanksgiving is to stop. How freeing is it when we actually do this? Smile. Notice. Take in our surroundings, the people right in front of us. Finding beauty in the simple and mundane only happens when we make ourselves available with empty hands and open eyes to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
2. BE OBSERVANT
“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” – Lionel Hampton
Now that we’ve stopped, we need to smell the roses! Literally. Take in the aroma of a good cup of coffee, breathe in the bread baking – or just simply breathe, and observe the miracle that is your breathing. When you eat an orange, really eat an orange. Enter into experiences, and let gratitude infuse all your senses. Observing the qualities of the person you love most helps you reflect on their goodness. Appreciation is the child of observation.
3. BE SPECIFIC
After we stop and take time to reflect, our gratitude is most manifested when we act! Acknowledging the specifics of what we’re Thankful for converts flattery into authenticity. We should make it a point to not only Thank people out loud, but Thank them thoroughly and thoughtfully.
Another practice is to write it down. Gratitude journals or a simple note on your phone will do the trick. Writing a letter to a loved one has a profound effect on both the receiver and the giver! Even if we don’t send the letter, holding onto it reminds us of our gratefulness.
Teaching children to Thank others in detail is huge. Ask them, “Why are you Thankful for your grandmother’s cooking? What is it specifically about her pot roast that you love?” Helping them be more descriptive will instill in them a deeper virtue of gratitude, and sow seeds for a meaningful, happy life.
4. BE GENEROUS
“Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” – Doris Day
Giving things away makes you more grateful for what you have and less attached to material goods. We’ll call it the “giving” part of “Thanksgiving.” In our Tidy Up blog, we recommend keeping a family donation box in the house, along with several other ways to shed things we don’t need. We also have community donation bins around the city for unwanted goods.
Give the gift of time in service to others. Whether it’s volunteering at a homeless shelter or helping a young mom load her car at Costco, serving others not only makes us Thankful for what we have, it helps us feel more connected to the world around us!
With the holidays coming up, lots of people like to pick a charity to give to – another stellar way to “give Thanks” for what we have. We’ve partnered with a few favorite local charities, so if you need suggestions, you can find them here!
5. BE HABITUAL
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” – Willie Nelson
Gratitude is a habit. Having little rituals in place like counting blessings at night or sharing joys at the dinner table are ways to incorporate Thankfulness into every day life. Some schedule intentional prayer time, others post inspirational images or quotes around the home to inspire a feeling of Thanksgiving.
6. BE AROUND BEAUTY
“The more grateful I am, the more beauty I see.” – Mary Davis
Step outside for a moment. Taking a walk in nature (sans screens, of course) allows us the mental space to reflect and to notice the details of the leaves or birds overhead. We have a tendency to always be thinking of the next thing on our list, but getting outside – oddly enough – helps us get outside ourselves and appreciate the world around us.
When we immerse ourselves in beauty – whether it’s a hike in the woods or a lovely song, our senses become unlocked in admiration. We make headspace (and heart-space) for the things worthy of marveling, and that is the birthplace of gratitude.
7. BE IMAGINATIVE
Think of death and loss. (Yep, you heard us!) It may seem morbid, but every once in awhile, we should let ourselves imagine life without certain possessions or people. Studies show that this practice actually increases a sense of gratitude exponentially, and self-pity, bitterness or petty qualms with others fade away.
Or here’s a similar concept, but different tactic: frequently think to yourself, “What if I died tomorrow?” (Queue Tim Mcgraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying”) But really. How could this not make us more grateful for the time we have, and the many gifts and blessings we’ve been given?
These imaginative practices help us remember life is, in fact, finite and helps us see things and people at their true, intrinsic worth.
8. BE SACRIFICIAL
Are we willing to go without shoes for a day or turn off the heat in our car in winter? Consciously renouncing things we take for granted dramatically calls to mind a sense of gratefulness for life’s little pleasures. So decline to salt a meal, take a cold shower, or sacrifice a snack one afternoon, and watch your mind shift. Forgoing these daily freedoms is a challenge, and yet if we try it, we feel an unearthed sense of wonder for the simple.
9. BE WARY OF A HEART OF INGRATITUDE
Forgive and let go of grudges. Focusing on blessings instead of the “curses” is the central thread in the fabric of a Thankful heart. We are capable of doing this by focusing on positive attributes of people or finding compassion for them.
“Remember the past with gratitude. Live the present with enthusiasm. Look forward to the future with confidence.” – St. John Paul II
Time marches on, and our to-do lists will always be here. Gratitude only happens when we schedule in the things of most importance, carving out time to reflect, observe, be specific, be around beauty, be sacrificial, and be imaginative.
This Thanksgiving, make no mistake, we’ll enjoy our turkey dinner (really, savor every bite of it!). When we eat that pumpkin pie, we’ll not only inhale the sumptuous scent of freshly baked crust, we’ll compliment the chef for its sublime equilibrium of sugar and spice. And when supper is over, as our stomachs ache with glory, we’ll remember “Thanksgiving” is more than an extravagant meal; it’s an opportunity to grow in gratitude every single moment.