How to share short stories of gratitude and thanksgiving to make your holiday even more meaningful
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Thanksgiving isn’t just about turkey and pumpkin pie.
And while a Thanksgiving feast is certainly a part of how we might choose to celebrate, Thanksgiving is really about reflecting on and appreciating all of the good things that we have in our lives.
Think about your Thanksgiving Day last year. How did your family tune into a sense of gratitude? If you’re like most people, you probably sat around the Thanksgiving dinner table and took turns sharing something each of you felt grateful for.
And this is a wonderful way to set the tone for a heartfelt gathering and connect with the good feelings of being grateful!
But of all the meaningful ways you and your family can choose to express gratitude this holiday season, I want to let you in on the simple way my family and I practice gratitude when we get together for Thanksgiving.
Plus, this gratitude activity comes with proven, research-backed benefits!
Here’s a simple Thanksgiving gratitude game that will help your whole family experience an attitude of gratitude this year
Each person that gathers at your Thanksgiving table brings something unique with them– the stories, connections, and qualities each member of your family calls their own have helped shape the past year and make each person a special part of your family.
A great way to honor the people who make up our family and to express real-time gratitude in the present moment is to express gratitude for each other.
Instead of sharing something you’re grateful for, how about appreciating someone you’re grateful for?
While sitting at your table, invite your guests to create meaning with you while you’re all together– “Let’s share something we’re grateful for about the person to our left. I’ll start!”
Then, you initiate the first gratitude. Turn to the person on your left and share something that you appreciate about this person. Maybe you’re grateful for the good deeds they’ve done over the past year, nice things they’ve done or said to another family member, or even positive things about their personality or who they are.
Even if the person to your left is a stranger that someone else invited and this is the first time you’ve met them, think of something you appreciate about what little you know or have seen of them so far. For example, maybe you noticed how friendly they are, how infectious their laugh or smile is, or how willing they’ve been to help out at the table.
There really is no shortage of opportunities to be grateful for the people around us!
Once you’re finished, that person then turns to the person on their left to share a gratitude about them, and so on, and so on.
Some of what is shared will be deep and profound, and some of it may be more superficial and funny– it’s all okay!
The intention is to tune yourself to the frequency of gratitude and appreciation and to speak that gratitude out loud.
Why are expressions of gratitude like this so important?
Research on the difference between thinking gratitude and practicing gratitude found that practicing gratitude in an outward manner was one of the best ways to experience its tangible benefits.
Practicing gratitude can look like keeping a gratitude journal as a form of daily practice, creating self-guided gratitude exercises for yourself, or speaking gratitude out loud to those around you.
The leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons, has conducted studies on the impact of practicing gratitude with thousands of individuals.
These seemingly simple activities have a significant positive impact on physical health, including an improved immune response and lower blood pressure, and mental health, including more joy and positive emotions.
Emmons and his colleagues have also documented the social benefits of practicing gratitude. It turns out, outwardly expressing gratitude helps people feel less lonely, forgive more easily, and be more compassionate.
And being on the receiving end of gratitude expressions from others? That has benefits too, like lower levels of anxiety and less negative emotions just to name a few!
In fact, Emmons calls gratitude a social emotion, saying, “The social benefits are especially significant here because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion. I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
Ideally, we want to practice gratitude on a regular, consistent basis – but there is no better time than Thanksgiving to experience the personal and social benefits of this powerful tool in a fun way.
As each person moves around the table sharing something they appreciate about the person on their left, before the circle is complete, everyone will have shifted into a vibration of gratitude.
This Thanksgiving activity will make a more heartfelt and fulfilling gathering for all!
Expressing gratitude even for the little things is life-changing
Years ago, my husband Joe decided to express some gratitude of his own.
Joe grew up in a singing family, and his entire family regularly sang together.
Joe grew up to become a gifted professional singer, a career he loves with all of his heart and soul.
One year when he was very young, Joe’s family was supposed to sing for a holiday event at church. When they arrived, the church was filled to the brim with 300 people.
As a little seven year old boy, Joe had never sung in public before. He was very, very nervous.
When the moment came that he and his family went on stage and were supposed to start singing, Joe opened his mouth, and no sound came out!
He was terrified, embarrassed, and thought about running off the stage to hide.
He looked into the audience, and sitting there near the front was a woman named Mrs. Bryant, the mother of his big brother’s friend.
Mrs. Bryant looked right into Joe’s eyes and just smiled this great big smile.
Seeing this put Joe at ease. He was able to take a breath, and then, he could sing!
Many decades later, Joe found himself thinking about Mrs. Bryant.
He thought, “You know, if Mrs. Bryant hadn’t smiled at me that day when I was a child, I would have been so afraid I wouldn’t have been able to sing. I would have been ashamed. I might never have given myself permission to become a singer and had the life that I’ve had.”
So my husband wrote a gratitude letter for Mrs. Bryant, decades after that smile. He wrote, “When I was seven years old, your warmth gave me the confidence I needed to take a breath and sing.”
Joe went on to tell her how much that moment had shaped his life, writing, “Thank you for my singing career.”
Several years after Joe sent that letter, Joe and I were standing together at his father’s funeral and Mrs. Bryant’s son approached us.
Joe said to him, “You know, I wrote your mother a letter about five years ago.”
Mrs. Bryant’s son said, “Not only did you write a letter to her, she kept it in her wallet. She read that letter many, many times. Often, she would bring it out at meals and share that letter with all of us about the power of saying how grateful you are for someone.”
I know that hearing this made Joe feel good, and we know that it made Mrs. Bryant feel good too.
Here’s the truth: You and I can express our gratitude any day of the year
Thanksgiving may be a favorite holiday. It may seem like the absolute, perfect time to express gratitude. There are even countless Thanksgiving gratitude activities you can do with your children and your family to show how thankful you are on this special day.
But, the truth is, there isn’t anything magical about the gratitude we express on Thanksgiving.
We can choose in any given moment not just to think grateful thoughts, but also to express those thoughts to others.
Gratitude itself is magical!
The power of gratitude isn’t limited to a single holiday. You can experience profound benefits from gratitude practices like this one in your own life on any given day– and I encourage you to do just that!
Download my FREE: Stronger Than Circumstances eBook and learn this simple gratitude practice and how to OVERCOME limitations and not just at Thanksgiving, but every day of our lives.
An invitation and a challenge for you…
Here’s a question for you…
Who is one person in your life that you feel grateful for? Go ahead and share this with me in the comments below.
You don’t have to name the person – you can just say “my daughter,” or “my brother,” or “my husband” if you prefer.
No matter how you choose to denote them, I invite you to share something that they bring into your life that you’re grateful for.
Then, I challenge you to take your gratitude practice one step further! Consider sharing your feeling of gratitude with that person in your life.
Whether you tell them the next time you see them, send them a quick email, or do what Joe did and write a letter, it’s a quick, easy way to have a massive, positive impact.
You have within reach an effective way to model gratitude, a powerful tool to shift your energy, and an easy method to help you feel better now– all wrapped up in gratitude.
And there’s no better way than sharing your gratitude to help the people in your life reap the same benefits!
Don’t forget to share with me in the comments.
I’d love to hear from you!