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A rainbow of gratitude: Ideas and inspiration, benefits, deeper dive, and Thanksgiving gratitude

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

How will you spend your first-ever pandemic Thanksgiving? Maybe you are keeping your usual Thanksgiving traditions, or maybe you are choosing a smaller gathering without travel. Or, as author Priya Parker suggests, perhaps you are “abandoning your Thanksgiving script and having an improv Thanksgiving,” with an opportunity to create an entirely new sort of holiday. However you choose to spend your Thanksgiving this year, one common thread we find is that Thanksgiving seems to be the perfect opportunity to practice and experience the power of gratitude.

Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean bypassing the difficult feelings we are experiencing. It means acknowledging those tough feelings of anxiety, fear, and despair, but not allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by them. Practicing feeling grateful is one powerful strategy that we can use to actively promote our resilience and well-being in the midst of feeling stress, uncertainty, and depression.

What Does The Research Say About The Benefits Of Gratitude?

Thanks to the last two decades of gratitude research, we now know a lot more about the benefits that accompany gratitude as well as the ways that we can encourage feelings of gratitude in our daily lives. We know that practicing gratitude has significant physical and psychological benefits, with grateful people experiencing increases in well-being, positive mood, life satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and greater resilience following traumatic events. Gratitude also appears to inspire people to be kinder, more helpful, and generous. In some medical studies, more grateful patients were found to have better sleep, less fatigue, reduced levels of cellular inflammation, and decreased symptoms of sickness.

Ideas And Inspiration For Encouraging Feelings Of Gratitude

There are so many great ways to encourage gratitude in our lives!

  • Gratitude Letter: Write a letter or email of gratitude and appreciation to someone you know – a parent, sibling, friend, doctor, teacher. Either imagine sending the letter to them, or actually send it to that person.

  • Gratitude Journal: Each day list three things that you are grateful for in a gratitude journal. They can be little or big things, based on the past, present, or future, such as the sun shining or appreciation for today’s meal.

  • Gratitude Walk: When you go for a walk outside, take the time to notice things around you that you appreciate, such as the smell of the flowers, the sounds of the birds, or the colors of the leaves and trees. You may also notice and appreciate your feet for bringing you outside, and anything else that comes to mind.

  • Gratitude Art: You can take pictures of things that you are grateful for and create a photo essay, a photo collage, or a photo album as a reminder of the positive things in your life. You can also draw or paint those things you appreciate in your life and get creative as to how you would like to display them.

  • Gratitude Reading: Take some time to read and learn more about gratitude. Goldie Hawn’s MindUP Foundation suggests the following book for adults: Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert Emmons. And for younger children: Gratitude Soup by Olivia Rosewood, and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. For older kids: A Great Big Heart by Wylinda Williams, and Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpugo.

  • Gratitude Rock: A physical object such as a special rock can serve as a symbol to remind yourself what you have in your life. You can carry it in your pocket, put it on a necklace, or place it on your desk. Whenever you see it or touch it, use it as a reminder to think about something that you are grateful for. What you take a moment to do this several times a day, you may find that your day feels much more positive.

  • Gratitude Subtraction: Think about what you currently have and perhaps take for granted – a job, graduating from school, a beloved pet, a warm place to sleep at night – and consider what your life would be like without those things. This is a great way to appreciate those things you already have even more.

  • Gratitude Box: This is a great way to encourage your own sense of gratitude and at the same time share your feelings of appreciation with a loved one. Find or decorate a box and write down something that you appreciate about your friend or family member. For instance, you could start by saying “Thank you for…,” or “What I love about you…,” or “My wish for you is….” The messages can be just from you, or you can collect messages from others and include them in the box and give the box as a special gift to your loved one.

  • Gratitude Jar: Think of at least three things from your day that you are grateful for, from sipping a favorite coffee to a heartfelt appreciation for your child or partner. Write them down on small slips of paper and start to fill the jar. Over time, you will see the many things you have to be thankful for, and if you are having a tough day and need some support, you can take out a few notes to remind yourself about what is good in your life. You can decorate your jar or not, whatever feels good to you.

  • Gratitude Buddy: If someone close to you is also interested in practicing gratitude, you can share the things you are thankful for with each other, or you can simply become accountability partners and just let each other know if you have written down your gratitude for the day.

Thanksgiving-Specific Gratitude Practices

  • Table/Zoom Thanks: Simply go around your table at Thanksgiving, or your family Zoom, and encourage each person to express one thing they are grateful for from either that day, or from that year.

  • Thankful Tree: Cut out colorful paper leaves from construction paper. Design a cardboard tree (or get creative with any material you choose), or use an existing plant as the base. You can get as creative or non-creative as you wish. Encourage people at Thanksgiving to write down something they are grateful for on the paper leaf, and then hang the leaf on the tree for a visual collection of thanks and appreciation.

  • Going Around The Table: Provide a colorful index card and a pen to each person at the table. First, every person writes the name of the person to their left at the top of the index card, and then underneath writes something they appreciate about that person. Then each card is passed to the right and the next person adds their words of appreciation to the list under that person’s name on the card. When the cards have gone all around the table, you can take turns reading the cards out loud and enjoy each other’s words of appreciation.

Beyond Thanksgiving 2020: A Deeper Dive into Gratitude

  • Daily Gratitude Practice: For longer-term benefits of gratitude, think about doing something beyond the day of Thanksgiving. A daily or weekly time to write down what you appreciate about the people or things in your life can go a long way in helping your brain and mindset shift toward greater psychological well-being.

  • Savor: Encouraging your feelings of gratitude to linger longer in your mind and your body gives your brain and nervous system a stronger opportunity to gain psychological and physical health benefits. Think about each thing you appreciate for approximately 20-30 seconds. If possible, notice if you feel any sensations in your body – maybe you feel a softening in your shoulders, neck, or chest. Maybe a sense of warmth in your chest or stomach area. Maybe you feel more grounded in your feet and legs, or you notice a sense of release with a tear of happiness. Whether you feel any particular sensation in your body, simply savoring the gratitude experience in your mind and breathing deeply for 20-30 seconds promotes resilience and helps strengthen your brain’s neural pathways for the better.

  • Reduce Gratitude Scarcity: Notice if you are using gratitude as a scarcity practice. See if you are telling yourself -- Even though I don’t have X, I’m still grateful for Y. Instead of doing so, try and take a moment to let go of what you don’t have, and truly focus on what you are grateful for at this very moment in time.

  • Mindset: Bringing to mind what you are grateful for as a daily practice encourages your mind on its own to be on the lookout for things throughout the day to appreciate, because it is now used to looking for things to be grateful for. So getting into the habit of practicing gratitude daily sets you up to grow and flourish throughout the day.

  • Remember Past Gratitude Feelings: During difficult times and when you are feeling a bit low, look back at your journal entries or your gratitude jar and remember in your heart all the things that you have written down over time that you have been grateful for. You will have created your own meaningful support system that you can use at any time.

I am thankful for healthcare workers, my beautiful family, my health, my generous supportive community, and my opportunities to grow and learn.

May you be well. May you be peaceful.


Founder, Wise Wellness Toolkit


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