Gratitude is the point of Thanksgiving, but it’s something we often don’t prioritize.
When the aromas of roasting turkey and fresh pumpkin pie fill the air, most of us look forward to setting work aside in favor of a lavish meal and the company of family and friends. What we don’t look forward to are the myriad of tasks we have to complete in order for Thanksgiving to be a success. Whether you’re hosting, helping or simply showing up, the balancing act of food preparation, cleaning, travel and tricky family dynamics can turn Thanksgiving into a stress-fest devoid of the thankfulness for which it’s named.
A survey conducted by The Harris Poll in 2016 revealed that nine out of ten Americans (ninety percent!) think that Thanksgiving is more about who we’re with than what we’re eating, so why do we take out our overcooked turkey frustrations on our family and friends? The answer lies in misplaced priorities.
More Important Than the Turkey
The ONE Thing dispels the myth that everything matters equally. If we want to live extraordinary lives, we have to keep our eyes on what’s of lasting importance.
In the case of Thanksgiving, it’s all too easy to turn our attention to immediate needs (the dressing needs more time to bake, Grandma has a complaint, etc.) and make them the defining moments of the day. Why? Because we assume that a ‘perfect holiday’ is determined by the small details that make up the holiday instead of how we bring the meaning of the holiday to life. In other words, the gratitude we should demonstrate to our family, our friends and ourselves goes by the wayside in place of the pursuit of the perfect turkey. This is a mistake.
If we can’t prioritize gratitude on a day explicitly dedicated to it, how can we hope to prioritize it for the rest of the year?
In the study participants read stories about the experience of Holocaust survivors and were asked to put themselves in their shoes to the best of their ability. The researchers recorded their brain activity and found that feelings of gratitude were linked to regions of the brain associated with morals, connection with others, and perspective.
All of these results paint a larger picture of gratitude. In a lot of ways, it’s what binds all of us closer together.
Bonding with one another becomes difficult when we’re trapped in the kitchen and refusing help, obsessed with perceived slights from family members, or despairing over things that didn’t go as planned. In moments when we’re tempted to hold onto small things, we must reframe our minds to prioritize gratitude for the good of both our mental health and our relationships with the people we lean on throughout the year. This Thanksgiving, take mindful steps to make gratitude paramount at your celebration.
- Cultivate a Grateful Mindset Ahead of Time
If you’re an experienced Thanksgiving host, you know advanced preparation makes the day-of exponentially easier. Stock up on shelf-stable items early. Clean out your fridge days in advance. Read and follow the thawing instructions for the turkey. In addition to these practicalities, set aside time in the days leading up to Thanksgiving to meditate on what you’re thankful for. Start with the basics, like a roof over your head or the ability to buy food, and work up to the people around you and why you’re thankful for each of them.
- Write It Out
Many people are familiar with the tradition of going around the table and having everyone share what they’re thankful for. While this is a great way to demonstrate gratitude publicly, it may not be feasible for large groups, less formal celebrations or guests who have anxiety about speaking up in public. The good news is that you can encourage the same type of gratitude-sharing through the written word.
If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, set out a table of cards and pens guests can use to write the things they’re thankful for. Give them the option to pin their cards on a board for display, keep them to themselves, or to write thank-you letters to other guests. If you’re attending someone else’s celebration, write thank-you letters to give to the host and the other guests that you know.
- Turn Mishaps Into Affirmations
We all have an idea of what Thanksgiving is supposed to look like, but the reality is typically far from it. Our responses to the inevitable imperfections of the holiday can be negative, or they can become affirmations of gratitude. Guests are late? Be thankful that they arrived safely. Not enough potatoes? Be thankful you have plenty of other foods. You can’t control the actions and reactions of other people, but you can reiterate gratitude to yourself and share that perspective with the people around you.
Thanksgiving only comes around once a year, but the gratitude it represents should become a part of our daily lives. Consider becoming a part of The ONE Thing community to get support in cultivating gratitude (among your other goals), or enlist the help of the people closest to you through the Goal Setting Mastery Course.