Most of us who work in the "lifestyle" genre are inundated with the concept of gratitude on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Gratitude has been linked to everything from improving happiness, body image, sleep, and life satisfaction to decreasing worry, depression, anxiety, and dependence on alcohol, nicotine, and drugs. (If you don't know about the psychological and physiological benefits gratitude can have on you, try implementing the "What Went Well" exercise into your daily life and observe the effects for yourself.)
Amidst the inherent stress at Thanksgiving of cooking a meal large enough to feed a medieval banquet and managing the traditional Turkey Day minefields -- including in-laws, long percolating confrontations, and inappropriate jokes (by you or otherwise) -- it can be challenging to take a step back, put the (spiked) apple cider down, and appreciate the fact that Americans have an entire day off intended solely to observe one thing: gratitude. Most Thanksgiving dinners I've attended, whether in my childhood or as a guest in adulthood, have included that awkward and anxiety-producing preface, whereby each attendant is asked to offer publicly what he or she is thankful for.
This thankfulness round robin usually occurs just after the main event (where the two family members most at odds at that particular moment have an all out throw down) and just prior to the Thanksgiving gatekeeper proclaiming what everyone's been waiting for: "Let's eat!" This prerequisite can be especially unpleasant for introverts such as myself (I not once, but twice, dropped out of Toastmasters). No matter what I plan to say, I always end up resorting to some iteration of the three boilerplate Thanksgiving gratitudes: family, health, and this meal. But this year, for the first time since having a family, we are hosting Thanksgiving at our home.
To honor the the essence of Thanksgiving, but in a way that is more personal and thoughtful -- at least for me -- I came up with five new creative ways to express gratitude on turkey day to get into the Thanksgiving spirit.
Try one or two for yourself this year.
1. Gratitude tree.
Place a small synthetic tree, cut branch, or sticks neatly arranged into a vase. Cut ribbons in various colors 4-5 inches wide. You should have enough colors of ribbon to give your tree a festive look. Set out a sign next to the tree that instructs your guests to pick one color of ribbon and tie that one ribbon onto the tree for every one thing he or she is thankful for. I cut about 10 ribbons for each color giving the guest 10 things to be thankful for. The end result: a festive and meaningful tree that can also be a beautiful centerpiece.
2. Thankful place cards
I made these unique place cards (a how-to coming soon on the blog, no sewing experience required) and included not only the name of my Thanksgiving guests, but also a line for them to write one thing they're thankful for each year. Don't forget to include a pen for each table setting. Guests can wander about the table taking a peak at what everyone is grateful for (or share outloud) and everyone can take home their card as a gratitude reminder for 2014.
3. Gratitude Messages
This idea might be my favorite. I took mini envelopes and folded a piece of paper accordion-style cut just big enough to fit into the envelope. You should have the same number of folds as the number of invited guests so that each guest gets one fold to write on. Put each guest's name on the outside of the envelope and place all the envelopes into one basket. Ask each guest to write one thing they are thankful for for every person at Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone will write on one space of the accordion message, skipping his or her own envelope. At the end of dinner, each guest will take home his or her envelope or you can share out loud what everyone wrote. I think it's entertaining to have all guests write in all envelopes -- regardless of whether they know that person or not. You'll be surprised by what new acquaintances will come up with.
4. Gratitude Drink Identifiers
This idea suits more for a mostly adult Thanksgiving affair, particularly where not everyone is well-acquianted. I set out gift tags and ribbons (or you can use string) and a sign that instructed guests to write on the tag one thing they are grateful for. The tags are tied to each person's wine glass (instead of glass identifiers) and act as a great conversation starter. Funnier gratitudes work well here and this can be especially fun for a dinner that has various single people in attendance. At the other end of the spectrum, if you do have lots of kids with various sippy cups and bottles, it is also cute to get them involved and, instead of tying the tag to a champagne glass, secure it to the sippy cup (as you might know, sipply cups do get confused more often than you'd think!).
5. Homemade "I'm Thankful for You" Gifts
I love the idea of making a homemade gift for your Thanksgiving guests with an "I'm thankful for you" tag. These can include candy apples (recipe coming soon on the blog), chocolate chip cookies, english toffee, chimichurri rub, jam, or brittle to show your love and appreciation for the fabulous individuals in your life. These can also be made and wrapped well in advance of Thanksgiving and, if you have kids, grandkids, or nephews and nieces to help -- major plus.
All of these ideas embrace what George Washington, who first formalized Thanksgiving as a national holiday, proclaimed to be most important: "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God." And, whatever harmful effects that third piece of pumpkin pie might have on your waistline will be offset by the cascade of psychological and physiological benefits of expressing gratitude -- and that fourth glass of (spiked) apple cider.
Happy (gobble) Thanksgiving (gobble, gobble)!
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This post was previously published on www.jessicashaool.com.