I love that many families practice gratitude for the entire month leading up to Thanksgiving. The tradition of a Thankful Tree is one of my family’s favorites, and I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s something our children look forward to as well.
On the first of November when the sugar rush from Halloween is starting to subside, we display the hand-sewn wall hanging my mother-in-law made, and I unevenly cut leaf shapes out of six fall shades of construction paper. Each family member gets his or her own color, and at dinner throughout the month, we write something we are thankful for on our leaves. It can be big and abstract, like love or faith, or it can be something as small and simple as pencils and paper, which was displayed on one of my preschooler’s leaves last Fall. (If you’ve been wanting to start this tradition but don’t want to make one yourself, Amazon has a great option.)
After the Thanksgiving holiday, I save those little leaves of gratitude in our family time capsules to look back on in the future. In addition to the answers that make me a proud mama, such as Jesus, family, veterans, teachers, and neighbors, so many of my kids’ and husband’s answers reveal quite a bit about their current personalities and interests. A few that my mom-brain has allowed to seep into long-term memory include:
- “Johnny Football” – my rebellious daughter’s answer when the Aggie quarterback was blowing up the college football scene, despite her mother’s affiliation to the Texas Longhorns
- “Hot lunches” – my husband’s not-so-discrete way to show his gratitude for mid-day *alone time* with me
- “Paw Patrol waffles” – just one of the specific food answers given by the toddlers in our home
- “My future dog” – yet another clever opportunity for my kids to beg for a pet
I absolutely love hearing and reading what each of my family members is thankful for, and there are no rules about what to say or write, just that you have to come up with something. But more importantly, I love that we’re taking even just a couple minutes out of our day to focus on gratitude. I cherish those moments that can quickly reverse the criticism, complaining, and chaos that often manifests during our busy afternoons.
There has been quite a bit of research done across multiple disciplines about the benefits of gratitude, from the religious sectors all the way to the personal finance industry. Gratitude simply makes life better. It has been shown to improve your mental, physical, and emotional health. It opens the door to better relationships, both personal and spiritual. It enhances empathy and leads to less aggression and more acceptance. Also, grateful people sleep better, eat healthier, and build stronger careers. Grateful people even spend less money!
So, why do so many of us intentionally practice giving thanks ONLY in the month of November? This practice needs to be a year-round aspiration! When that Thankful Tree is soon replaced by another holiday tree, then Valentine’s hearts, then Easter baskets and Spring flowers, what gratitude tradition will carry on? Here are a few (maybe less-obvious) ways to sustain the benefits of Thanksgiving throughout the year…
Praise and Prayer
Hang a poster board, butcher paper, or a chalk board up with the words, “Praise” and “Prayer”, in a high traffic area in your home, such as the back door or the mud room. Encourage family members to write what they are thankful for on the Praise side and ask for prayers for themselves and others on the opposite side.
Keep a spiral notebook open on the kitchen counter and have each person jot down something they are grateful for or something they’re looking forward to in the journal each day. Bring it to the dinner table one day per week and share your family’s good news with each other.
Random Thank You Notes
I am terrible at writing out thank you notes after a birthday party. I wish I was better at it, but maybe thank you notes would be even more appreciated when they’re not considered obligatory. Keep thank you notes available in your home and practice writing notes to friends after an act of kindness or a fun night out. Encourage your kids to do the same, even to their own siblings. Gasp!
Closet and Pantry Inventory
Before going shopping for something new or for Christmas gifts, take a mental (or written) inventory of what’s in your closet or pantry. This can help you and your kids recognize how much you already own and be grateful for it. This practice will also likely prevent you from over-spending on what you don’t really need. Also, you may even find gifts for others in your home and skip the shopping trip altogether.
Pick a “No-Negativity Day”
Life is tough! Venting helps.
But maybe, just one day per week can become a sacred “No-Negativity” day. On this day, focus entirely on being positive. This would be a HUGE challenge for me and therefore, this is one tradition I’m going to strive for throughout the year! Someone please hold me accountable.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:21
In this season of thankfulness, I am truly grateful that I have the freedom to try something fun and to venture out of my comfort zone by writing and sharing my random thoughts in this blog, but I am even more thankful for those of you who take the time to read it.