Thanksgiving is in many ways my favorite holiday. It’s a holiday about gratitude and about simply being together. It’s blessedly free from the pressures of gift-giving, and it’s not smack in the middle of the frenzy of holiday party giving and attending that pushes us straight through the New Year at such an exhausting pace. There’s the exhaustion of cooking and cleaning up, of course, but it’s such a homey holiday that even these pressures seem comfy. And, since it’s the first holiday of the season, we’ve still got lots of energy to spare for parties!
It also satisfies a universal human need to pause in our busy lives and take stock of the good things that we have. As the year winds to a close, it’s the right time to remind ourselves of how much we have received so that we can approach the new year with an attitude of gratitude and anticipation.
But it does go so quickly, especially when we’re traveling. Unlike Christmas, which is a whole holiday season, Thanksgiving is essentially a long weekend, and often just the day itself. Every year I find that this day, set apart for active gratitude, bustles by without much time for thought. The annual “things I’m thankful for” journey round the table in fifteen minutes is a good practice, but without taking time beforehand to really assess my life, I find myself at a loss for things I’m truly grateful for and find myself recycling some old, tired-out expression used and overused by generations before me.
So this year, I plan to be ready for the roundtable, essentially by treating it like the New Year! Here’s what I mean:
01. Set aside time.
I plan to commit an hour or two to journaling, listing, and thinking through the past year. This time on the front-end can help combat the feeling of “gosh—what do I have to be grateful for?” that can creep in when you’re put on the spot.
02. Jog your memory.
Writing isn’t enough in itself—you need to have something to write about! Perhaps consider pulling out your calendar to take a little walk down memory lane. By November, I’ve often forgotten the joys and sorrows of, say, March—but my calendar will have at least a few place-holder events on it that can help trigger more memories. If you journal regularly, you could also browse back through old entries; if you’re a collector (of postcards, programs, bar napkins, matchbooks, etc.), look back through the things you’ve gathered in the past year to remind yourself what you’ve done; if you’re a picture taker (which, of course, most of us are—thank you, smart phones!), scrolling back through your Instagram or digital photo albums can help jog your memory.
03. Don’t ignore the dark things.
When we talk about gratitude, it’s most obvious to notice the various good things we have—and this is essential, certainly. But it’s also important to see that the sorrows and disappointments of our lives are also opportunities for growth in ways we may not realize. Preparing for Thanksgiving can be a good time to reflect on those more painful memories: how have you grown from them? What did you learn? About yourself? About others? Have tangible goods come your way because of these sufferings? If you have not yet grown in any noticeable way, how can you turn your dark moments into a source of forward momentum?
04. Make resolutions.
Yes, just like the new year. But this might be a good time to specifically focus on gratitude resolutions—considering how to foster awareness of joys in your life, so that next year you’re not starting from a blank slate. How can you develop habits of self-awareness and gratitude? Here are a few ideas:
Write down three things every day that you’re grateful for. If every day feels like a lot, try starting with once a week. Make these things specific rather than general: don’t say “I’m grateful for my friends,” but rather, “I’m grateful for Victoria because of [fill in the blank].”
Enter the day looking for things to be grateful for. Set yourself a weekly or monthly “mantra”: “Today I will be grateful for [x].” If you’re dealing with a challenging activity or person, this can be a great way to change your attitude about an issue and to help you see the positive qualities you may be missing.
Say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.” Very often, when we have to ask people for help, we respond with apologies when what we really want to express is gratitude to them for their sacrificial support. Our guilt at failing in total self-sufficiency leads us to turn an act of love on their part into a failure on our part—which not only obscures our own awareness of how loved we are, but also does injustice to the friend who has done the giving! Switching our vocabulary to more accurately reflect reality can help us grow in gratitude toward those who show us by their actions how much they love us.
This year, before the turkey coma sets in, foster habits of mind that build true awareness of and gratitude for the good things in your life so that you can truly and wholeheartedly give thanks!