Thanksgiving looks different this year. Traditions are being shattered in 2020 and new realities are emerging. Thanksgiving is no exception.

  • After Canada’s Thanksgiving in October, COVID statistics jumped, reminding us that, sadly, the pandemic isn’t taking a break over the holidays and we don’t want to endanger loved ones with large family gatherings.
  • A more critical lens is finally on the treatment of indigenous people and schools are waking up to the right way to teach about this holiday. Our school history books tell the Thanksgiving story as one of happy and mutual sharing between European pilgrims and the Native American inhabitants of North America.
  • Unemployment numbers are high and money for splurging on feasts is low. In the U.S., local governments across the country are urging us to stay home and celebrate virtually or only with those who live under our roof.

This is not our typical Thanksgiving!

Wonderfully, the message of Thanksgiving remains intact. School leaders, educators, and parents can emphasize the meaning of Thanksgiving this year, modeling and encouraging our children to do the same. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to make gratitude a priority in our schools and homes! As a famous quote from a Jesuit priest states, “It is not joy that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us joyful.” Let’s increase the joy and gratitude in our lives.

The ideas of sharing with others and expressing gratitude are timeless and much needed this Thanksgiving and, frankly, year-round. Not sure how to do this? We have your back.

Practice Gratitude.

Filling ourselves with reasons to be happy is an inside job and we need positivity to heal our fractured, pandemic-ridden country and world. Brené Brown has a wonderful interview that shares her studies connecting joy and gratitude.

After over a decade of research, she found not that joyful people are grateful, but that “practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives.” These tangible and deliberate practices included writing in a daily gratitude journal or saying aloud what they are grateful for.

Gratitude can heal us and there’s actually neuroscience behind how this works. Steven Kotler, my favorite peak performance expert, hosted a podcast early in the pandemic on how gratitude boosts our creativity and peak performance. It’s one worth setting aside time to listen in to.

Take Responsibility.

That’s right, we need to take responsibility for the thoughts and messages we let enter our brains. We can lift ourselves into gratitude and joy by making finding the good and a “glass-half-full-mindset” a top priority. Warning–this may mean smaller daily doses of social media rants!

Years ago, I became aware that the news really upset me. I boycotted the daily news for a decade. Now I get a national and local news summary in my inbox and listen to a little NPR. That’s plenty for me to feel informed but not bogged down.

Instead, I fill up my spare head space with positives. I listen to podcasts that inform or make me hopeful. A few of my favorites are Brené Brown, Michelle Obama, and Jan Phillips.

I’ve been able to hear both Brené and Jan when they spoke in Seattle. Jan is an amazing artist, poet, activist, award-winning author, founder of the Lovingkindness Foundation, and former nun on fire to tap into creativity and good in life. She constantly reframes the world for me in powerful ways. I also get her weekly doses of hope and inspiration in her Sunday e-newsletter.

And on Saturdays I receive CNN’s email newsletter of “The Good Stuff.” The inspiring stories of the humble and impact good people are making in the world reminds me of all I have to be thankful for.

Consider Sharing More.

Maybe this includes leaving a larger tip when you receive a service or meal. Or finding a way to practice a random act of kindness each day, which was a favorite activity I employed as both a mom and as an elementary teacher. From opening doors for others, to making peanut butter pinecone bird feeders, sharing was a rich part of my girls’ and students’ formative years. I know the times I have been the benefactor of another’s kindness have left me moved and grateful.

Listen Fully and Seek First to Understand.

This is a tough one for me. I’m working really hard to listen fully and pause before responding when having a conversation. My brain loves to zip ahead and solve all problems before it even hears a complete sentence. It’s very frustrating. Just ask my husband!

But I know when I give my full attention and just listen, I’m giving one of the deepest human gifts of seeing, hearing, and valuing another person. So I keep working on being a better listener.

With our divided country, it would be easy to dig in on our political positions. But instead we can listen fully, seek to understand, and remember we ALL want a bright future for our country and children.

Yes, this is a VERY painful time–for us and the young people we’re working with and living with. Growing up and assuming new responsibilities always is. We are responsible for our health and keeping others healthy. Our biases and racism is another source of pain and area needing healing and growth right now. But we still need to strive to be forces for good and positive change. To unify and heal our world. What a perfect time to instill a practice of gratitude to help us shine brightly in these uncertain times.