Most people know that gratitude generates good feelings. But did you know that a dose of thankfulness can also positively impact your health, happiness, resilience, and relationships? Research in the field of positive psychology has shown, time and time again, that purposefully cultivating gratitude can have far-reaching effects in your life. This month of November is a perfect time to find ways to cultivate expressions of gratitude. Below are 10 simple activities you can do with your family to celebrate the Thanksgiving spirit. Each one will nourish the sense of appreciation, inspiration, and awe that come in tandem with a grateful heart.
1. Cultivate Gratitude by Sharing Blessings with Others
Challenge each member of your family to commit five conscious acts of kindness throughout the course of one day. These need not be big things. Simply holding the door open for someone, paying for someone’s coffee, or sincerely complimenting a friend or coworker will do the trick. The only catch is that these actions must be premeditated. In other words, you cannot look back over the day and declare generous actions “conscious kindness” post hoc. Every family member must decide prior to acting that the behavior will be an intentional measure of kindness.
After doing this for one day, compare notes on what each family member did and the feelings generated by their actions. Inevitably, gratitude for the blessings in one’s own life, as well as thankfulness for the ability to bring joy to others, will become conversation starters. As psychologist Shawn Achor writes in his book, The Happiness Advantage, “A long line of empirical research, including one study of over 2,000 people, has shown that acts of altruism—giving to friends and strangers alike—decrease stress and strongly contribute to enhanced mental health.” Once your family experiences the benefits of conscious kindness, you may decide to make it a regular family activity.
2. Create a Thankfulness Centerpiece
For the young and the young at heart, a tangible thankfulness tree can bring gratitude to life. This can also serve as a lovely centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table, perhaps even offering guests the opportunity to participate in its creation. Here are the basic instructions:
- Begin by going outside and finding some long, thin branches (you can also find these at a crafts store). Spray paint them a color of your choice and place them in a tall vase.
- Next, cut circles the size of a silver dollar out of card stock. Punch a hole in the top of each circle and lace a pretty ribbon through each one.
- Have the members of your family write one thing that they are grateful for on a circle and then hang it from one of the branches. Thanksgiving visitors may be invited to participate in this expression of gratitude as well.
3. Participate in a Family Service Project
Is there any better way to conjure up good feelings than to serve those in need? According to a study published in Social Science & Medicine, the answer is probably not. The study found that the participants who volunteered weekly were much more likely to report being very happy than those who did not volunteer. Gather the family and decide upon a service project that makes everyone’s heart sing.
Here are a few ways to serve:
- Pass out blankets to the homeless.
- Volunteer to walk and cuddle dogs at an animal shelter.
- Serve dinner at a soup kitchen.
- Organize a beach clean-up.
- Visit residents at your local nursing home.
4. Create a Family Gratitude Photo Collage
Put that smartphone to use (while feeling gratitude for its camera, of course). For just one hour, have each family member use their phone or camera (or take turns with a single device) to take a photo of everything that stirs gratitude in their heart. Nothing is too big or small. Snap a shot of the dog, a child, the sunrise, a tree, the computer, maybe even your own hands and feet. Remembering the simple blessings in life reminds you that your life is filled with incredible people, things, and experiences.
Most people have more to be grateful for than they realize at first glance. A gratitude photo safari can tangibly remind the whole family of just how many blessings they have. At the end of the hour, create a collage, either digitally or by hand, of your family’s gratitude photos and place it somewhere where everyone can view it.
5. Write a Family Gratitude Poem
A gratitude poem is a fun way to engage the entire family, even those who are not local. Begin by writing a single line of poetry that expresses something for which you are grateful. For example, “The sun that warms my face.” Then pass your line of poetry to the next person, who will compose a line themselves. For extra fun, the second person might end their line with a rhyming word, such as, “The dog who steals my place.”
The poem can be started at the family dinner table and then emailed to out-of-town relatives so that they can add their line of gratitude too. The end result is a fun, festive family poem. Not only will the poem remind you of your family’s abundant blessings, you will likely expand your gratitude for those who share the adventure with you.
6. Paint Gratitude Rocks with the Family
Have each family member draw upon their inner artist by participating in a family rock painting project. Begin by asking each member of your family to find a small, smooth rock that can fit in their pocket or purse (so that they can easily carry it with them). Then bring the family together to paint and decorate the rocks. Each person’s rock will serve as a reminder to pause and find something to be grateful for in that moment.
This exercise conditions the mind to integrate mini-mindfulness moments into the day. Over time, the rock may not even be necessary for each family member to periodically pause and enjoy a moment of gratitude.
7. Play the Secret Saint Challenge with Your Family
When you are locked in habitual mind patterns, gratitude tends to get squeezed out. Serving others takes your mind off of yourself and creates the mental conditions in which gratitude flourishes. You need not look far to find a person to serve. In fact, you don’t even have to leave your house. You can play the secret saint challenge instead. Here is how:
- Write the names of each of your family members on small pieces of paper. Fold the pieces in half so that the names are hidden.
- Have each family member draw a name, being careful not to let anyone see it. (If a person selects their own name, have them put it back and draw again.) The name on your piece of paper is the person that you will secretly serve for the day, as their “saint.”
- For one day, each person will do secret acts of kindness for the person whose name they drew, being careful not to get caught. The acts can be simple and small, such as making someone’s bed, putting a yummy surprise in their lunch bag, and doing anything that will lighten their load or brighten their day. If you have children, you can encourage them to get creative and have fun coming up with ways to commit secret acts of kindness.
- At the end of the day, sit down and have everyone guess who their “secret saint” was.
8. Discover and Share “Usually Overlooked Blessings” with Your Family
For one whole day, set the intention to be mindful of blessings that you usually take for granted. Did you wake up in a bed, step into a hot shower, drive yourself to work, or receive a hug from your child? Somebody on the planet did not receive those blessings today.
By bringing awareness to the good things that are already present in your life, you can easily raise your level of happiness. Gratitude is a magic wand that erases stress and leaves joy in its place. At the end of the day, share your list of “usually overlooked blessings” with the family. Notice the differences and similarities in what your family members have been overlooking.
9. Assess Each Family Member’s Level of Gratitude with a Quiz
What better way to assess one’s level of gratitude than with a quiz? You can find an excellent gratitude quiz published by the Greater Good Science Center here. Not only will a quiz give you a good sense of how often and how much you integrate thankfulness into your life, it will likely spark some creative ideas for how to include new practices of gratitude in your life as well. Have each family member take the quiz and share personal reflections that arise from it.
10. Imagine a Less Fortunate Life and Share Your Gratitude for the One You Have
Although life inevitably deals everyone some unexpected growth opportunities, also known as challenges, it is still remarkably full of good fortune. Take some time to imagine your life without just one of the people that you care about, one of the material gifts or possessions you enjoy, or one of your healthy body parts. By taking time to see what your life would be like devoid of even one blessing, you begin to realize just how rich you really are. After practicing this activity individually, have family members discuss their personal takeaways. For whom and for what did each member of the family experience the most gratitude?
Whether you decide to practice all 10 gratitude activities with your family by creating a gratitude themed month, or you pick and choose just a few that seem most relevant to your family, encouraging thankfulness within the family can have far-reaching effects. Family gratitude projects contribute to a culture of kindness and generosity that lead to greater joy, love, awareness, and feelings of gratitude.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.