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Gratitude, Thankfulness and Thanksgiving

November 15, 2013


“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” 

Henry Van Dyke

Nov. 28 is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. – a day set aside to perhaps take a moment to invite our awareness and attention to what we are grateful for in our lives. It might be in response to the kindness of others or simply being in awe of the beauty in the world around us. Like today, watching the multiple shades of pink rising with the sun shimmering through a soft veil of snowflakes. Then, to my delight, the dark shadow of antlers began moving across this backdrop, and the moose carried on into the beautiful dawn sunrise. That was my morning prayer.

When we experience that sense of gratitude, as Henry Van Dyke writes in the quote above, we may have the impulse to express this gratitude by offering thankfulness. I sometimes wonder what happens with that impulse to express – do we follow it through with action? With a reciprocation of kindness?  Do we pay it forward?

The action of gratitude is following our impulse of thankfulness and expressing it through acts of thanksgiving. We teach children to be gracious by thanking others for their kindness. It doesn’t have to stop there. We can teach children about being grateful for one another, for seeing the flowers blooming in the garden, the smell of freshly cut grass, and the fun of building a snowman. There is no end to what we can be grateful for.

I often wonder about the children and youth I journey with as a therapist, who have gone through much trauma and abuse. I wonder, “What do they think about gratitude?” Post-traumatic growth would suggest that perhaps some people who have gone through traumatic times will have a deeper sense of gratitude or purpose in life. True, some of us become stronger in character as a result of living through the tough and rising tall on the other side of adversity. I personally have experienced this, and I have professionally, over and over again, witnessed teens/children rising on the other side with gracious hearts.

What is clear to me is the power we have right now to cultivate an awareness of gratitude and to create a practice of expressing our thankfulness. Action. As with most things in life that we want to change, shift up, develop – we make a plan of action. If we don’t have the habit of expressing gratitude, we can certainly create a plan to begin shaping the habit.

In life, we can open ourselves to give thanks for the little things, even the annoying things, especially the challenging and frustrating things that happen. Can we train our brain to pay attention to the “cup half full”?  We are full of potential, to shift, to change, to rewire our habitual ways of being. And truly, it is never too late to change our focus. In fact, something beautiful just might happen!

Here are some ideas you might want to experiment with, if you haven’t already:

• Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty
This fall, with my craze on for painting and writing on stones, I found a website where a woman has painted peace symbols on over 12,000 small stones. She travels to various places and leaves these peace stones for others to find. Why not join her? Google Peace Rocks with Alison Ciarlante. Imagine finding one of these little treasures and how it might brighten your day.

Gratitude Rocks

I followed suit with painting many peace stones and share them with my clients, friends and family, but writing words of gratitude and giving them to those around you is also a nice gesture. I have also invited young people I work with to create gratitude stones that have words or images on the stones of things they are grateful for.

Pay it Forward
Up here in Canada, there was a cool trend happening at Tim Hortons – our famous coffee shops – where someone bought coffee for the next 500 customers in Edmonton, Alberta. Then it happened again in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  This similar trend continued to happen all across Canada. We can pay it forward in small ways, like buying the cup of coffee for the next person in line, bringing a treat for a coworker. Start your own trend!

A Tree of Thanks
Using real branches from a pruned tree makes a nice start for this project. Cut out paper leaves for you and your family to draw or write on things you are thankful for. This makes a lovely display for the thanksgiving meal.

Chalk Board Fabric
This is another festive project for the thanksgiving table. Cut out a funky design with the fabric to make a runner for the table, write “Give Thanks” on the center and invite everyone to write on it during the meal. The discussion generates a real theme of gratefulness of Thanksgiving.

Secret “Thanks”
Make little cards of thanks to people you want to take a moment to offer special notice of. It can simply be thanks for their presence in your life!

Gratitude Journals
I remember back in 1996 when Sarah Ban Breathnack published the “Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude.” I wrote in my journal for years later. Since then there has been a proliferation of gratitude journals. Make your own gratitude journal, and collage the cover to your own delight.

‘Tis the season to find inexpensive pumpkins and squash at the local grocery store. Pick one up and, using markers, write, “What are you grateful for?”

Gratitude Session
Cultivating gratitude in your daily life can become habit forming! Take 2-3 minutes, perhaps on the drive to and from work, and focus on the things you are grateful for in that moment.

Morning and Night
Another opportunity to cultivate gratitude daily. Develop the habit of noting five things you are grateful for first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Something I Haven’t Thought of Being Grateful For
In the quest for being grateful, this question struck me in a new and fresh way. What have I not acknowledged being grateful for? Makes me think a little deeper.

What are you waiting for?  The next person you see or talk to – give thanks for their presence in your life.

Perhaps you have an idea to share – post it!

“If the only prayer you every say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

  Meister Eckhart

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