You've probably heard that gratitude is an attitude, but it’s more than that. When we practice gratitude, we react to unexpected events with delight instead of disappointment. We savor positive experiences, making them richer and more fulfilling. A thankful heart also prevents us from overlooking everyday blessings, like a delicious dinner or a warm bed.
Counting (and recounting) blessings has benefits. Research shows that people who practice gratitude feel greater joy and connectedness, cope better with stress, and experience less illness and depression.
Put a prompt on your calendar to discuss—and model—thankfulness every day this month with your children. In 30 days, thankful thoughts and pay-it-forward actions will be almost automatic, and you and your family will cultivate an attitude of gratitude long after Thanksgiving Day. Here’s some inspiration to get you started:
- Start off the month by setting up a hand-decorated Thankful Jar and leave it on the table so everyone can write down things for which they are grateful (a blue sky, mom’s scrambled eggs, finding a quarter on the way to school). Ask everyone, including guests, to jot down a new idea every day and add it to the jar. Read the ideas at Thanksgiving.
- Begin writing a gratitude journal. List three things you’re grateful for today. Do it again tomorrow. Gratitude journals focus emotional energy on what’s right, not what’s wrong.
- Practice small acts of kindness: give someone flowers unexpectedly, hold the door for someone at the store, help a young mom who is struggling with a stroller on the stairs, wave and say hi to someone
sitting alone on a park bench.
- Model and explain how meaningful it is to send (and receive) a hand-written thank-you card for gifts. Take this one step further and pen a thank-you note to someone who doesn’t expect it, like the school bus driver, a librarian, your baby sitter, or a crossing guard.
- Teach very young children exactly what “nice, generous, good” actually means. Show them how to express thankfulness by saying something as simple as: “I’m happy and thankful we are having such a nice
- Set a grateful example. Say “thank you” for kids’ help with chores. Go global and say “Gracias,” “Danke,” or “Merci” to make it more memorable.
- Be grateful for financial resources. Make a microloan to someone who needs it to get back on his feet. Learn more at World Vision Micro or Kiva.
- Light a candle and focus on one recent blessing. Or visit gratefulness.org/candles and light a virtual version instead.
- Bring a comforting dinner to someone who nurtures the good in others. The food doesn’t need to be fussy; soup and bread are perfect for sharing.
- Make a collage of the people, places, and opportunities for which you’re most grateful. Cut out pictures from magazines, or create a word cloud at
Wordle.net. Laminate your creation to use as a place mat.
- Bake a “thankful pie” using your family’s favorite ingredients (such as apples, berries, or sugar pumpkins). Savor the bounty of the local harvest.
- Volunteer your time and skills to serve others. Make and deliver food baskets, or serve a holiday meal to help people in need. Do it with your kids. Do it all year long. Go to volunteermatch.org or serve.gov to find local opportunities by Zip code.
- Celebrate the beauty of nature by decorating your table with fall gourds or flowers. Take a walk to appreciate the sunshine, the colorful leaves, and geese flying south in formation.
- Acknowledge your partner’s financial, practical, and emotional contributions to the household. Look him in the eye and say, “Thank you for working to support our family,” or “Thank you for
doing the laundry,” or “Thank you for being a great dad.”
- Remember bad times, like frustrations, failures, and losses. Notice how much better things are now. Focus on resiliency and renewal.
- Bake “thank you” bread using a monkey bread recipe (Allrecipes.com has easy, delicious ones). As kids pull off each piece, have them share something for which they’re grateful. Have grown-ups play (and eat), too. Bake a few extra loaves to give to friends and neighbors.
- Go on a date with your significant other or one of the kids. Find what makes you smile, laugh, and sigh when you’re together. Don’t forget to say: “Thanks for a good time. I enjoyed that.”
- Inspire others. Describe one unexpected blessing you’ve received today in a status update on Facebook or Twitter. Visit the Facebook page “30 Days of Gratitude” and share your blessing.
- Rake leaves into piles. Before bagging, do a running leap into a pile and shout “thank you!” Be grateful for silly, spontaneous fun.
- Post thankful expressions or notes of thanks in visible locations at home and work. Sneak one into your child’s lunch box.
- Visit the principal’s office and tell her three things you appreciate about your child’s teacher, coach, or curriculum. Her job is (mostly) thankless.
- Speak up publicly (at work or at church) to highlight others’ help and support. Your recognition might be just what someone needs today.
- At the coffee counter or drive thru, or at a tollbooth, pay for the person behind you. Your generosity will boost his energy and mood.
- On Thanksgiving Day, hold hands with family, relatives, and friends around the dinner table, and take turns voicing your thanks for one thing. For a twist on this idea, go around the table and have each person name something that corresponds to consecutive letters of the alphabet (Apples in the apple pie, the Basketball hoop in the driveway, Clean Clothes every day, etc.)
- Attend community meetings and support the work of others who make local decisions about your town and schools.
- Appreciate animal affection. Pet your dog or cat and focus on times you’ve shared. Be grateful for your pet’s unconditional love.
- Take stock of your family’s health. Be thankful for the gift of good health, and acknowledge the struggles of those who are not as healthy.
- Uproot worn-out fall flowers and plant bulbs in their place. Anticipate spring. Optimism is gratitude to grow on.
- Give back to those in the community who may not have the support of family. Visit a senior center to socialize, sing, play an instrument, or share the affection of your pet. Take books or toys to children in the hospital; stay long enough to read with them or play a game.
- Write a letter of thanks to each of your children. Explain how they’ve changed your life for the better. Give the notes now, or tuck them into kids’ baby books for the future.
Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD, is a personality psychologist and New Jersey mom of two who is grateful for coffee and knock-knock jokes. She shares psychology lessons for life at her blog.
What are you and your family thankful for? Leave us a comment!