It is the month of giving thanks for all our life’s blessings. After spending the last 2+ years wrapped in grief, fear, darkness, and illness, humanity is slowly starting to come out of the shadows of the pandemic. As emotional as the year has been, we strangely find that something like a pandemic has given us a reason to start being more grateful for what is. We are thankful for each loved one who sits around the table this Thanksgiving. Each friendship, relationship, home, wealth, job, and healthy body is something to celebrate.
Practicing gratitude—not just on a particular day, but as often as we can—is said to have phenomenal benefits for our body, mind, and spirit. For example, research studies link gratitude with fewer signs of heart disease and demonstrate research that practicing gratitude can reduce stress levels, get feel-good hormones flowing, lower anxiety levels, activate parts of the brain associated with pleasure, and aid in good emotional and mental health.
Spiritual master and Art of Living Founder Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar asks this critical question, “Can you be truly happy if people around you, your friends and family members, are unhappy? We have to share our happiness.” Perhaps this holds true for feelings of gratitude too? Our sense of appreciation will be very short-lived if we find the people around us continue to complain. So we have a few ideas for you to try out—activities you can participate in as a family. All these activities have one common theme—gratitude.
Perform Five Random Acts of Kindness
Studies suggest that kind people have 23% lower cortisol (stress hormone) release and age slower than the average population. Engaging in kindness also produces feel-good hormones like oxytocin and endorphins that reduce pain, help you live longer, activate the brain’s pleasure and reward centers, and make you as happy as the receiver of the kindness, if not more.
Sometimes when the pressures of our daily grind take over, we might find it challenging to engage in all these activities. But as a group or a family, you may find it easier to execute, fun, and emotionally rewarding. Performing these random acts may also encourage the introverts in the family to participate and enjoy activities they would never think of doing on their own!
These do not have to be elaborate, but they must be spontaneous for these activities to be fun and meaningful. Some of these activities could include
- Volunteer at a shelter
- Check with a shelter about their immediate needs and organize the material for them
- Pay for the person behind you—a coffee or a meal
- Shovel snow for a neighbor
- Make time with elders who live alone. Invite them over for a meal and a fun evening. Ask them about their life stories and let them share their happiest memories.
Cook a Meal, Feed the Needy
In this, each person in the family can prepare one dish, not more, to feed at least ten people. Play music while you cook. Designate the responsibilities of getting vegetables, spices, paper plates, containers, organizing knives, chopping boards, and wrapping foils among the members. This makes every person feel involved.
Then, load up all the food in a car, and take it to a street corner where you may find people who could use a sumptuous meal. Spend time with them, sing, dance, and share a meal. Let this not be a once-a-year activity. As they say, if it makes you happy, keep doing it.
Create a Gratitude Board
The task here is simple. As family members go about their day, they must write down five things/people/situations they are grateful for on colorful paper and stick it on the gratitude board (this can be made out of cardboard, poster board, or using the family bulletin board). This board can stay up throughout the year—a sweet reminder of how abundant and fulfilled our lives are, even when we don’t feel it.
A Day of Giving Joy
Let’s make these activities slightly more interesting. The idea is to bring a smile to the face of a certain number of people—each person can decide what that number is for them. You can do anything—dance, sing, perform, write a poem, or share a compliment. Nurturing positivity in the environment is much like being in the perfume business; the fragrances, the joy, and the happiness of uplifting someone invariably rub off on you. As you get together for dinner, share what you did and, more importantly, how you felt. Just remembering the feeling of having done something nice for a stranger can bring a sense of gratitude.
Share Your Gratitude Story
Don’t take this process lightly—it can fill you with strength, positivity, and gratefulness. It will bring everyone closer and strengthen your bonds with each other. During this process, you may feel emotional or vulnerable. Let the emotions flow out. Know this is your safe space. Build a safe space for everyone to share openly, wholeheartedly, and without judgment.
Every person will have 5–10 minutes to think of one or more stories/incidents/blessings they received this year that they are grateful for. Remember, this is not about sharing a gratitude list. Here, the idea is to pick a story/incident and flesh out all the details about how it transpired—everything that went behind receiving it and how you feel about having it now.
Consciously reliving a pleasant memory replicates the neural activity as if it were happening in the present, which can reproduce the positive feelings associated with the incident.
Have a Gratitude Bowl
You can purchase a bowl for the occasion or use a bowl handed down from parents or grandparents. Next, everyone will drop in an object they are grateful for or an object that represents something they are thankful for. It could be a key chain, a wedding ring, a book, a pen—anything that is special and makes you feel grateful. Then, at dinner, share why this object is special to you. What makes you grateful for it?
One Thing I Did Not Notice
Email or DM people for one thing they are grateful for that they took for granted. The responses could be the sunrise—a good night’s sleep, a co-worker who always has their back, or a spouse who cooks like magic! You can also help out with generic prompts to make it easier.
Pay a Compliment
Write the names of everyone attending Thanksgiving dinner on pieces of paper and put them into a bowl. Each person picks a name and as you go around the table, you will compliment the person whose name you choose.
You must mention one or more qualities you like in this person and share why you are grateful for them. Then, if you wish, you can go and hug this person. This activity may seem time-consuming, but it will leave everyone feeling appreciated, loved, and grateful for each other.
Say a Prayer
While we spend time with people we love, we often forget the power of faith that has sometimes helped us brave the wildest storms of life. So before starting dinner, try a few minutes of silence.
Use this time to think of all the blessings life has offered and in the heart of silence, share a quiet prayer of gratitude to the divine or any other power you believe in. Gurudev says gratitude is a powerful magnet to bring in more of what we have. The more abundant and generous we feel, the more reasons we attract to feel that way into our lives. This can also be a poignant time to remember the lives and contributions of people who are no longer with us and whom we miss every day. We can pray for their onward journey, wishing them peace, love, and freedom.
Watch a Film Together
And finally, as you end the day, dim the lights and watch a classic heart-warmer like It’s A Wonderful Life, Life is Beautiful, Freedom Writers, Pursuit of Happiness, Bambi, the Kung Fu Panda series, Inside Out with your family—holding them closer than ever.
Whether you participate in various activities or do nothing but spend time with each other, whatever you do and wherever you are, do not miss a chance to be grateful in life.