Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday—and not just because I love turkey gravy and baking pies.
Over the years, my kids and I turned the celebration of Thanksgiving into a month-long ritual. It’s one that I look forward to every year, and it has actually spilled into the other months of the year in so many ways (even though my kids have left home and started their own traditions).
So, on this windy Sunday morning, here I sit contemplating how I’ll celebrate Thanksgiving month as an empty nester. I am filled with memories and joyful anticipation for the days ahead.
Imagine what it must have been like to have had a seat at the table of the “first Thanksgiving dinner” ever. That “first dinner” was in 1621 and, I can only imagine, was something quite sacred and brilliant. A couple of things stand out for me that speak loudly to the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving and to the way that I want to experience it (and every day for that matter).
First off, their preparation for autumn harvest feast didn’t consist of a trip to the local market to buy the bake-ready turkey, potatoes, and pie ingredients. In fact, they didn’t even eat turkey, potatoes, and pie. To see what they did eat, check this infographic out.
No, this was a true celebration of perseverance through much disease, discomfort, and hardship. If you recall, the passengers of the small ship, the Mayflower, landed where they would establish the village of Plymouth in Massachusetts. They wanted to start a new life of freedom and prosperity. After losing half of their passengers to malnutrition and illness, this first dinner, a three-day festival, was a celebration of survival and of Earth’s abundance.
Secondly, and at least as profound, this was a celebration of synergistic harmony between two diverse cultures: the European colonists and Native Americans—sadly, one of few examples of harmony between these peoples. The Native Americans saved the colonists, showing them how to hunt, fish, cultivate nourishing food, and avoid poisonous plants. The three-day feast was organized to celebrate the first successful corn harvest.
While it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed the history of Thanksgiving (watch this video for a quick review), this is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday: it is remembrance and a celebration of Earth’s bounty to provide and the incredible power of humanity to come together to sustain and enhance life.
My intention this Thanksgiving season is to practice gratitude with the spirit and energy of those first autumn harvest festival guests in Plymouth, Massachusetts. And I believe that even though life is much different today than that of the pilgrims who inspired the national holiday of Thanksgiving (which, by the way was not adopted as an annual National holiday until over two hundred years later, thanks to Abe Lincoln and Sara Josepha Hale, author of nursery rhyme, “Mary had a Little Lamb”), we can develop more connection and meaning in our lives by practicing gratitude with the fervor of those pilgrims and Native Americans in the early 17th century.
So, in honor of the European colonists and Native Americans who began the tradition of Thanksgiving, here are 10 present-day ideas to practice gratitude all month (or year!) long and to experience the most meaningful Thanksgiving ever:
1) Practice mindful breathing
It’s easy to take much of life for granted. Just think about the miracle of breath. You can go about your day, being productive, taking care of yourself and others, worrying, fretting, working, and whatever else you do, without even thinking about your breath.
Take a few minutes each day simply to tune into your breath. Sit quietly, and pay attention to your breath, “I am breathing in, I am breathing out.”
According to Thich Nat Hanh, in his book Love Letters to the Earth, “The best way to reunite with your body is through your breath. Awareness of your breathing brings your mind back to your body. When you’re in touch with your body, you’re in touch with life, the cosmos, and planet Earth.”
There is no better way to reconnect with yourself, and your many blessings, than to reconnect with your breath.
2) Take time to tune into your surroundings
Your busy day might find you standing in line at the grocery store or driving to work or to pick up your children at school. Rather than getting caught up in impatience, anxiety, or worry, pause and look around you with curiosity and awe. What do you see that is a beautiful reminder of the miracle of life?
It might be an elderly person walking slowly and deliberately with a cane as he puts a few groceries in his basket; or graffiti on the wall that reads, “love rules”; or a flower growing in the crack of a dirty sidewalk.
Every morning as I drive to work, my mind is on the day ahead. I make every effort at stop lights to pause and look around me—particularly to the left where the sun is rising over the Wasatch mountains. I was fortunate enough to catch the picture above at a stop light one morning, because I looked up and out of my thoughts.
3) Acknowledge your body for all that it’s done for you
I don’t know what it is, but it is so easy for us human beings to look in the mirror or at a picture of ourselves and only see the flaws. Believe me, I know. Ugh. Oftentimes all I see when I look at me is wrinkles, scars, and cellulite.
Well, I’ve developed a compassionate practice to counteract that nasty habit, and it has been life-changing. I keep Mother E DEEP GRATITUDE essential oil blend in the shower, along with Mother E Fractionated Coconut Oil (FCO). I encourage you to try it:
At the end of your shower, turn the water off, pour a quarter-size amount of FCO in your hand along with a few drops of DEEP GRATITUDE, and use it as a moisturizer, rubbing it into your skin while it’s still wet.
Rather than beating yourself up for your body and skin imperfections, focus your thoughts on your loyal legs that carry you where you need to go throughout the day and allow you to do what you love. Acknowledge your hands and arms for enabling you to eat and dress and type and pet your dog and hug your loved ones.
Our bodies, with all their imperfections, allow us to live our lives. Let’s practice gratitude toward our gorgeous, amazing bodies!
4) Take a daily gratitude walk
When you can, take a walk in nature (if you live in the city, notice the plants and the animals around you) to remind yourself of the astounding fact that there is this sphere, called Earth, that is spinning fast around its axis. And that everywhere, life bursts from this sphere.
When you aren’t able to get outside, take some time to get present with your walk. Even if it’s walking to your next meeting at work or walking to pick up your baby from her crib, feel your feet, with every step, on this amazing planet. Feel the effects of gravity and the pull of the core of the Earth keeping you grounded firmly in the moment.
Said Thich Nat Hanh, “When we do walking meditation, we can take each step in gratitude and joy because we know that we’re walking on Mother Earth.”
5) Recognize and acknowledge the good in the people around you
How many minutes of each day are spent thinking about the shortcomings of other human beings around you—be it your closest loved ones, your work associates, political candidates, or those you see walking on the streets?
To start, focus on your loved ones and those you spend the most time with. Take a moment when you’re playing with your child, re-capping your day with a love one, or having a discussion at work, to internally recognize the inherent positive qualities of the person you are interacting with. How do they bring value to your life? Whether you state it out loud, or you keep it inside, I’m betting your interaction with that person is more connected and meaningful.
For a challenge, think about those you may not know, but who are a source of negative emotions for you—whether it is a homeless person on a street corner or a person in the limelight that has different values. Can you take a moment to feel what it must feel like to be them? To think about the circumstances of what brought them to where they are today and some of the positive qualities they possess?
Carry DEEP GRATITUDE roll-on essential oil blend in your purse throughout the day... it will come in as a handy reminder.
6) Write a letter of gratitude to yourself
Ok, I think you’re starting to get the picture. Instead of beating yourself up, take some time to acknowledge and celebrate all that you are and all that you do.
We probably will never get to all that is on our to-do lists. And sometimes we’ll make mistakes and downright fail. Have you ever taken the time to sit down and write yourself a letter, acknowledging yourself for all that you have done? For the lives that you have bettered?
I dare you... you’ll be grateful you did.
7) Choose a person to shower with gratitude
One of the most powerful exercises I have experienced was at a personal growth seminar, where we took turns whispering in the ear of another person the things we long to hear from others: “you are worthy,” “you are loved,” “your smile lights up a room,” or “your courage inspires me.”
Next time you are with family or friends, choose a person to shower with gratitude. Have each person share one or two positive qualities that this person exudes and how that person positively influences others. Over the course of the month, you might take turns showering each family member or loved one with gratitude. This practice deeply moves and lifts the spirit. Try it with a teenager!
Diffuse Mother E’s DEEP GRATITUDE essential oil blend to help set the mood.
8) Drink and eat mindfully
I LOVE this excerpt from Thich Nat Hanh’s book, and I feel it is a perfect example of eating and drinking mindfully:
“Drinking a cup of tea is a pleasure we can give ourselves every day. To enjoy our tea, we have to be fully present and know clearly and deeply that we are drinking tea.
When you lift up your cup, you may like to breathe in and become truly present. When you are fully established in the present moment, you are free from the past and the future, from your thoughts, worries, and projects. In that state of freedom, you drink your tea. There is happiness, peace, and a feeling of connection with all of life. Looking deeply into your tea you see that you are drinking fragrant plants that are the gift of Mother Earth. You see the labor of the tea pickers; you see the luscious tea fields and plantations in Sri Lanka, China, and Vietnam. You know that you are drinking a cloud; you are drinking the rain. The tea contains the whole universe.”
While tea may not be your cup of tea, can you take a moment before each meal to recognize the wonder of nature and the efforts of others to make this meal possible for you? Can you put aside the phone or computer or TV for at least some meals, simply to acknowledge all that went into providing this food and how the food is nourishing and providing for your body and mind?
9) Before meals, share gratitude
My children and I started a Thanksgiving ritual that has now become a tradition for every family meal and has even spread to other families—that of sharing gratitude before meals.
While it was often a challenge with a hungry teenage boy just finishing water polo practice, we would each share one thing that we were grateful for before picking up our forks. It’s a wonderful way to connect with others and to the present moment, especially with teenagers (or any introverts) in the house!
To this day, it’s a beautiful way to start a meal.
10) Create and celebrate a “Thanksgiving Tree”
The Thanksgiving Tree ritual started in my household when the children were young. Being the first grandchildren in the family, my daughter and son were showered with gifts during the holidays. To counter-balance the gift-giving, I wanted to start a holiday ritual that connected them with the deeper meaning and value of the holidays.
So, for the first year and several years after, we painted a big tree trunk and branches with water-based paint on our sliding glass door. We cut out brown, yellow, orange, green, and red leaves. Every day, usually before dinner, we’d each write one thing we were grateful for and tape the leaves to the tree. (You might use a different version of a tree, like a small artificial Christmas tree).
It didn’t matter the word. Sometimes it would be, “I am grateful for burping.” It was the practice that mattered. And because of this tradition, I believe my adult son and daughter understand the power of gratitude to this day.
A Thanksgiving tree may not be the perfect gratitude ritual for you, but I can tell you... practicing gratitude regularly will change your life. Can you embody the spirit and energy of the Plymouth colonists to have the most meaningful Thanksgiving yet?
We’d love for you to head on over to our Facebook page and share how you practice gratitude—on Thanksgiving or any other day of the year!
Use DEEP GRATITUDE essential oil blend by Mother E to support your gratitude practice. Frankincense, lavender, lemon, myrrh, and cedarwood combine to summon feelings of peace, connection, and grace.