At this point, it’s almost a cliche to think of Thanksgiving as a holiday that doesn’t really live up to its noble expectations.
Sure, it’s supposed to be a day that we set aside to acknowledge all the wonderful things we have in our lives; but what it often morphs into is a forced series of awkward conversations with family, food comas, and naps in front of the television. Instead of a deep cultivation of gratitude, we get annoying uncles and football.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, the truth is that thankfulness and gratitude doesn’t come easily — especially when we have so much to be thankful for. After all, sometimes our true feelings don’t always spring forth naturally. Sometimes, in order to feel something we have to do something.
So how do we cultivate an appreciativeness of the good things in our lives, something deeper than just an awareness? There are a ton of different ways, but here are a few that might be right for you.
Try an app for gratitude
Yes, we all know that there’s an app for everything, but some gratitude is no exception. And there is in fact an app for practicing thankfulness. Attitudes of Gratitude, for example, helps you to keep track of all the kindness and beauty in your life in a sort of journal-keeping type program. And Happify, an app developed around recent findings on neuroplasticity, helps you to notice all the things you have to be grateful for in your life through quizzes and games.
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Go analog too
If you’re looking for something a little more hands on, try writing a letter or email to someone who you think deserves thanks but hasn’t gotten their just rewards. It could be a co-worker, an overlooked relative, or even that one exceedingly patient and cheerful barista at your local coffeeshop.
This might be a little more low-tech than an app, but a recent study by the National Institute of Health has actually shown that people actually made themselves happier when they wrote and personally delivered a note of gratitude to someone they think hadn’t ever really been properly thanked for their kindness. So they’ll be happy and you’ll be happy. Win win.
Help out a little
Another great way to cultivate gratitude about your own life is to help people who are less fortunate. Sure, there are benefits for you in doing this. Things such as an improved physical health and stronger sense of community, but even more importantly, serving people who are less fortunate helps to put your own problems into perspective. And, you know, even if it’s something small, it’s just a nice thing to do.
Ultimately, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be something we dread or find burdernsome. Through little acts of thankfulness and gratitude building during the rest of the year, you can prepare yourself for the holiday as the culmination of an entire year spent building your awareness of and gratitude for the beauty of your own life.
A small gesture that my own family does is, before eating our meal, we go around the table with everyone saying something that they’ve been grateful for this year. It might start out a little punchy and sarcastic, but once we get into it, people drop their guard and really allow themselves to feel the moment. It’s beautiful, but it’s also further evidence that thankfulness is something you do first in order to eventually feel it too.
Scott Beauchamp is a writer who lives in Maine. His work has previously appeared in The Guardian, Bookforum, Dublin Review of Books, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter here.
Top image by Unstuck artist-in-residence Bridgette Zou
(This Feels Nice Series, 2017, © Bridgette Zou)