When you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner and look at your plate heaped high with turkey, potatoes and gravy, before you pick up your fork make sure you haven’t forgotten to give yourself a hefty serving of gratitude. After all, what is a Thanksgiving feast without gratitude? Isn’t that what the holiday is all about?
It is, yet many of us forget that fact. Too often, we don’t remember to be grateful for what we have or receive on Thanksgiving or on any other day. We become so involved in the negative dramas of our lives that we see only the stress-filled job, the uncaring spouse, the stack of bills we can’t pay, the doctor’s prognosis, the misbehaved children, the lack of time. If we take another look at our lives, we can always find something for which to be grateful – the sun in the sky, a friend, the weekend, a warm place to sleep, the five dollars in our pocket, the dog who licks our hand in passing. It matters not how much we have or how little. We still can be grateful for what we do have.
Thanksgiving offers a wonderful opportunity to remember the things for which we are grateful and to practice having what some have called “an attitude of gratitude.” Some say a prayer of gratitude represents the strongest prayer of all, and I agree. I was taught to include gratitude in my prayers and thoughts every day – gratitude for what I have as well as for what I will receive. And what better time to start such a practice or to deepen an existing one than on a holiday created solely for giving thanks.
This Thanksgiving, I suggest taking the following four steps to help get into the spirit of Thanksgiving. First, before the meal even begins, go around the table and give each person a chance to offer gratitude for at least one thing. Begin simply by saying, “Something I’m grateful for is….” and fill in the blank. Let people share as many specific things for which they are grateful as they can think of. They can continue after their first sharing by saying, “And something else I’m grateful for is…” If someone’s turn has passed and they suddenly think of something else they want to add, let them do so between other people’s turns or at the end. This practice will set the whole tone of your meal. And don’t let anyone off the hook. Everyone must share at least one thing for which they feel grateful.
The second step to creating a gratitude-filled Thanksgiving involves prayer. Joining hands and offering a blessing on the food and the company at the table, along with thanksgiving of some sort, always sheds a warm, spiritual light on any meal. And it puts God into the picture, reminds us that the Divine might have something to do with our good fortune. Religious context doesn’t matter for this prayer. In fact, offer a heartfelt prayer that doesn’t associate itself with any one religion. If you prefer to stick with religiously oriented prayers and the company at your table has different religious beliefs, let each person from a different religion offer a prayer of gratitude from their own tradition.
Third, ask people to bring to the table their favorite quotes or stories about being grateful or about Thanksgiving itself. During the meal, take turns reading these aloud. It’s nice to hear the words of others or to share touching memories about a holiday. It gives depth to the holiday and a positive overall feeling to the celebration. In addition, such stories remind us of other things for which we can be grateful.
Fourth, before everyone gets up from the table – maybe over coffee and pie, focus some attention on the things you expect to receive over the next year. Vocalizing our intentions to manifest things in the future provides a wonderful vehicle for actually having them manifest in our lives. And the best way to allow these wonderful gifts into our experiences lies in affirming that they already are coming to us. In fact, it’s a most powerful exercise to offer gratitude for them as if you were experiencing them right in the moment, right at the Thanksgiving table. For example, you might say, “I am so grateful for the five percent raise I received at work,” “I am so grateful for the wonderful health I am now experiencing,” or “I am so enjoying my sleek, trim, body which weighs just 150 pounds.” The more specific you get about these goals and desires, the better. Not only do these invocations make you feel better, because they affirm that what you need or want is coming your way, but they have a way of actually attracting these things into your life.
With just a little effort, you’ll find you can fill your Thanksgiving experience with a heaping portion of gratitude. By so doing, the food on your plate will taste that much sweeter this year.