When we think about Thanksgiving, we often get caught up in the menu, decorations, and guest list and forget the reason we have the holiday. Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to slow down and pay attention to the blessings God has given us and to thank Him for them. It’s a time to remind us that no matter how difficult things might be, we can always find something to be thankful for. Following are some ideas for putting the thanks back into Thanksgiving.
Present your guests with new journals when they arrive. Tell them these are gratitude journals. Ask them to each take a few minutes to write in their books what they are grateful for. Encourage them to keep it all year long. They can take a few minutes every Sunday to write about—in some detail—the good things that happened to them throughout the week and to note anything in their lives they are especially thankful for.
Next Thanksgiving, invite everyone to bring their journals to dinner. (You may need to send reminders every now and then so people remember to keep them up.) Ask them to share one entry from their journal with the family to help everyone remember that life is to be celebrated. Be prepared to replace any journals that are full.
If your family has trouble thinking of things to add to the journal, make a gratitude jar. Brainstorm as a group to come up with topic ideas. When someone is stuck or simply feels he has nothing to be thankful for, he can pull an idea from the jar. Once he chooses it, he is committed to find something about that topic to be thankful for, which will force him to count his blessings.
Ideas for the jar:
A trial that turned into a blessing
A time you were forced out of your comfort zone
Work (paid or volunteer)
A difficult person you’re now glad you met
A Gratitude Tablecloth
Instead of a fancy cloth on your table, spread butcher paper or a plain white cloth over it. Hand everyone crayons or markers and ask them to draw or write what they are thankful for. This can help to keep children busy while the final preparations are being made. It also sparks conversation among the guests. Take a picture or video of the cloth for the future, but tuck the actual cloth away for one year.
The next year, bring out the previous tablecloth and read it as a family. Let everyone find his or her own notes and share them. Some of the notes will lead to memories, so go slowly and discuss them. Talk about how your family or guests have changed over the years. Then bring out the new cloth to repeat the activity. You might want to give the old cloth to a family member to keep.
A Service Project
Instead of huddling in front of the football game or parade, go out and do some community service while you wait for dinner. If people really can’t bring themselves to skip the game, consider choosing a project they can do as they watch. For instance, you might put together kits of school supplies to donate to a local school. Get some backpacks and fill them with things a foster child might want to take from place to place—a journal and pen, cosmetics, small toys, a teddy bear, or a t-shirt with a special message.
Check with the organizations before you prepare to make sure they need what you have in mind. They can also make suggestions about what is appropriate to include in your kit. Since they are likely to be closed on Thanksgiving, plan a follow-up family outing the next week to deliver your gifts.
Create a New Blessing
This can be especially useful if you’re feeling a little short on blessings at the moment. Thanksgiving is a good time to sit quietly and think about what is missing in your life that could be fixed. It’s really a better time than New Year’s Day to make resolutions because you aren’t just setting goals—you’re planning blessings.
Once you’ve identified what blessings you want and can reasonably obtain, make a plan to achieve that blessing. You can do this as a family or as an individual. As an example, a child might mourn the lack of a best friend. Help her create a plan to make new friends. If school doesn’t seem like a promising source, try putting her into a private class based on her talents or hobbies. Friendships are easier to make in these kinds of classes, particularly if they aren’t overly competitive. If you’re finding it hard to get a better job, figure out what needs to change to get the jobs you really want. Do you need to upgrade your skills? Improve your management style? Learn a language? Make a plan. Are you just feeling like you’re not quite happy? Choose a year-long service project that lets you focus on others for a while.
Once your family understands that they can help God bring blessings into their lives, they will feel more in control of their circumstances. Next year, when Thanksgiving comes along, they will have even more things to list in their gratitude activities.
God, the Source of All Blessings
For many people, Thanksgiving is a religious holiday. It’s not just a time to be thankful for the good things in our lives, but a time to give thanks to God, who provided them. Mormons, a nickname for people who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teach that everything good in life comes from God. When we forget that and try to take personal credit for it all, things often fall apart around us. Jesus taught that if we love Him, we should keep His commandments. Recognition of our blessings and thanking God for them reminds us of how much we love the Savior. That leads us to keep the commandments out of love. Doing so brings even greater blessings. Gratitude then, can lead to even more to be grateful for.
Gratitude expressed to our Heavenly Father in prayer for what we have brings a calming peace—a peace which allows us to not canker our souls for what we don’t have. Gratitude brings a peace that helps us overcome the pain of adversity and failure. Gratitude on a daily basis means we express appreciation for what we have now without qualification for what we had in the past or desire in the future. A recognition of and appreciation for our gifts and talents which have been given also allows us to acknowledge the need for help and assistance from the gifts and talents possessed by others (Robert D. Hales, Gratitude for the Goodness of God, Ensign, May 1992).
Let’s make Thanksgiving Day the start of a year of giving thanks. After all, we all have so much to be thankful for, it will take all year to express it. Gratitude should be an essential part of every day of our lives.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.