Ahhh…November. One of my favorite months of the year. Anyone with me? November has so many things going for it. We are settled into the school year, past “second summer”, and it is legit fall. So it’s totally warranted to break out all the cozy sweaters. (Yes, even in California, we wear sweaters! I totally see you all rolling your eyes at me, but I’m in the Bay Area! It’s different, I swear.) Aaannndd…we get a little break between the craziness of October — pumpkin patches, corn mazes, trick or treating, oh my! — and the chaos of December.
I realize that Thanksgiving weekend kicks off all the holiday shopping, but Thanksgiving Day itself? I LOVE that there is no expectation of gift-giving attached to it and that it is about, well, giving thanks…and also pie! Definitely lots of pie.
Why not use this as an opportunity to delve into some gratitude practice? It always helps me to take stock of all the goodness in my life. It helps my kids remember what’s important as well. It is such a nice way to prepare as a family for what’s just around the corner: the gift-giving frenzy of the holidays — complete with comparing presents and feelings of disappointment that follow. (What is it about getting a ton of gifts all at once that makes kids seem less grateful? Please tell me this isn’t just my kids!)
5 Ways To Practice Gratitude As A Family
We have a few things we do that go a bit beyond the whole, let’s-go-around-the-table-and-say-what-we’re-thankful-for Thanksgiving tradition. The first three gratitude exercises are alike in that you can really do them anytime, anywhere. Gratitude is a skill to cultivate and practice on the regular, much like mindfulness and self-compassion, so that you can eventually reap all the amazing benefits. If you can’t tell, I’m a total positive psychology nerd — check out The Greater Good Science Center for articles, quizzes, and research-based practices on how to be happy and find meaning in life.
1. Three Good Things Exercise
We do a couple of different versions of the “Three Good Things” practice around the dinner table on any old night. Basically, the idea is to think of positive things that happened to you today and also think about why it went well and how it made you feel. I first did it as a written assignment for a Science of Happiness course that I took a few years ago, but sometimes I just ask “what’s the best thing that happened to you today?” to keep it a little shorter. I find that it sparks conversation and reflection much better than the more general “how was your day?” which my kids will generally respond with, “Fine. Can I watch TV now?”
2. Rose-Bud-Thorn Exercise
Another version of this that we do is called “roses, buds, and thorns”, which was introduced to us a few years ago by my older kid’s amazing first-grade teacher. We each take turns naming something great (a rose) and something not-so-great (a thorn) that happened to us today. We finish with something we’re looking forward to (a bud). It can seem like the “thorn” part isn’t a gratitude practice, but naming the bad things/feelings in life often helps us move through the negative emotions, rather than burying them so that we’re in a better position to feel gratitude again. You can browse more gratitude practices by Greater Good in Action, here.
3. Conversation Cards
4. Reading Together
In another life or in another universe*, I totally would have been a librarian. I love books so much and will often use them as my way to discuss hard topics with my kids. Making it a habit to slow down and read together is worth it. Our favorite book with themes of gratitude and generosity is Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts. The story and pictures are wonderful.
Here are a few more kids’ books with themes of gratitude. Let me know if you have any favorites, especially for middle-grade readers!
*Did any of you see the movie “Everything Everywhere All At Once” with Michelle Yeoh? I saw it with a group of mom friends. Afterward, we had fun talking about what the alternate-universe versions of ourselves would be doing. 😉 Real talk. I feel like that aspect of the movie was so relatable for so many moms!
5. Gratitude Board & Thankfulness Jar
This was something we started in the Fall of 2020. It was a hard time, around month eight of the pandemic (back when we were counting the months). Schools weren’t open, still no vaccine, and an anxiety-inducing election looming ahead…you get it. We needed to do something to stay grounded. We were naming things we felt grateful for. But beyond the more obvious food/shelter/family kind of immediate responses, the ones that felt genuine and joyful were also very specific and struck us at random times of the day. Thus…the thankfulness jar was born!
For the next several months, whenever we thought of something that made us particularly thankful, we wrote it on a sticky note, folded it over, and dropped it into our jar. Even our 4-year-old got in on the action – she drew little pictures that I would later ask her to interpret so that I could caption them appropriately.
By the end of December, our jar was getting nice and full and we decided that we were going to read all the little notes as a New Year’s Eve activity. It was honestly such a delightful way to ring in the new year, that I’m thinking about making it a yearly Thanksgiving-to-New Year family tradition. We had fun taking turns reading the notes…well, the little one explained her pictures to us and we had no clue if she could actually interpret all of her previous scribbles or if she was making stuff up on the spot. Either way, it was a lovely mix of random (“I’m thankful for hula hoops!”), personal (“your mischievous grin”) and everything in between!
If you think I was ready to just toss all those little pieces of paper after we were done reading them, NOPE! That definitely was not happening. So…I decided I turned it all into a visual gratitude board that we could look at for a while longer. Pinterest-worthy? It is not. I just wanted to keep our little nuggets of thankfulness displayed for our own sake. Now that the 4-year-old is almost 7 and is starting to read, she has a renewed interest in our gratitude board, which makes me just so gosh darn…wait for it…yep, you guessed it! Thankful.
Shop Gratitude Board Supplies
You can make this work with whatever you have on hand. But if you’re like me and love an excuse to buy arts and crafts supplies…well then, these shopping links are for you!
Welp, that’s all I got! Hope this inspires you to try out some gratitude practices with your family. Let me know if you have any tried or true ones for me to try!
And I know I’m not alone in saying this… I am SO incredibly grateful for TME and the wonderful community here. Thank you all for reading and have a happy November, everyone!