6 Family Acts of Gratitude to Share All Year Long

Tips and tools to encourage gratitude and share it with the world from DoingGoodTogether.org

Inspire your family to share abundant gratitude and appreciation with these simple activities.

The season of gratitude is upon us. How will your family give thanks?

At its most distilled, the Thanksgiving story reminds us to make time for expressions of gratitude, sometimes in spite of hardships or feelings of loss. And, more often, despite the anxiety and vulnerability we feel when expressing big-hearted emotions.

Thanksgiving is the opportunity to pause, to be mindful of our treasures. And this year, for my family, it's a reminder to share a bold, enthusiastic thank you to all who make our treasures possible.

For years, my family has assembled branches, cut out leaves, and taken time each day throughout November to share what makes our hearts happy. This gratitude practice gives us a joyful end to our full days.

Sharing our daily gratitudes is an immensely fulfilling ritual for all of us – stressed parents, anxious tween, rambunctious child, and playful preschooler alike.

In fact, our practice usually continues – though with less consistency – throughout much of the year. When one of my daughters has something exciting to tell us, she is likely to call out, "Who has a thankful to share?" Then she'll listen to everyone else before she drops her big news. On other days, I will suggest we share gratitude as the antidote to a grumpy, rotten beast of a day.

Of course, we're not alone in enjoying this practice. Research continues to remind us that intentionally expressing gratitude has a powerful impact on an individual's sense of happiness and well-being. Regardless of life's details, being thankful makes life better.

This year, we're revising our November gratitude practice into a month of saying "thank you."

Our family is turning our introspective celebration of gratitude outward. Instead of simply sharing what we are thankful for each day, we are committing to bold expressions of gratitude, an outpouring of appreciation, kindness, and love for those who help make our hearts happy.

This isn't as easy as it sounds. Sharing impromptu acts of gratitude can be surprisingly more awkward than I realized.

Earnest expressions of gratitude sometimes feel too vulnerable. I catch myself worrying that my little band of smiling children with their homemade cards and brownies and hugs will seem too forced or trite or uncool.

But each time we've overcome that awkward feeling and reached out to say thank you, it is clear that we've filled up the hearts of others. As vulnerable as I feel, as embarrassed as my ten-year-old sometimes feels, we have yet to have an expression of gratitude end badly.

If you're ready to join us in our quest to share appreciation and sprinkle gratitude boldly over the people in your world, here are some tips to get started.

First, get ready to share your gratitude:

  1.  Read together! Our growing list of stories to inspire gratitude will help you start the conversation. Specifically, the story Good People Everywhere by Lynea Gillen will help children recognize all of the kind things people do to make our communities great.

  2. Make your list. Invite each family member to brainstorm people they are thankful for or who have made life more enjoyable or comfortable. Pay particular attention to those easily over-looked people in your lives, like the helpful cashier, your bus driver, or the waste disposal team in your neighborhood. After you've made your list, share your ideas with each other, and add these names to a mason jar, a paper chain, or a decorative bowl at the center of your table. These names will be your targets for the projects below.

  3. Talk About it. Take time to discuss why you are thankful for the people on your list. How have they helped you? What would life be like if they weren't part of it? And ask each other how can you best thank them? Your answers will help you select the best action from the list below, or perhaps you'll come up with your own creative ways to share gratitude.

Second, try one (or all) of these family acts of gratitude.

Draw a name from your jar, paper chain, or bowl, and share one of these acts of gratitude with someone on your list!

Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
  1. Make and Bake. Double your next dessert recipe and give extras to someone on your list. Include a hand written, heartfelt thank-you note, and deliver the treats in person if possible. Not a baker? Grab a treat from a bakery!

  2. Phone or Video Call. If you're short on time or connecting long distance, a phone call or video chat offers a great way to share your gratitude. Though it may feel awkward to call someone up simply to say thank you for being a friend, a good grandparent, or a kind presence, once you've connected in this way, you'll also feel more fulfilled.

  3. Write a good, old-fashioned "thank you" note. A handwritten note is truly the simplest, most lovely way to express gratitude. Children can add special drawings and notes of their own. Parents can add a gift card if appropriate. Let kids come along when it's time to mail or hand deliver your thank you's.

  4. Start an appreciation journal. Sharing a small notebook among your family members is especially fun for younger children. Simply dedicate a notebook to sharing gratitude between family members. In one page of your journal, write a letter to a family member you are thankful for. Then ask that person to pass it to the next family member when they feel gratitude.  Older kids may want to get the postal service involved and mail the notebook to extended relatives.

  5. Get crafty. If you're feeling creative, make a craft project to share with someone from your gratitude list. Visit our Homemade Holidays Pinterest board for some ideas.

  6. Count for the hungry: If you want to express thanks more generally for your family's bounty, try our simple Help the Hungery Month project. Make a daily habit of counting something you are thankful for (shoes, snacks, pillows, etc.) and putting that number of coins in an empty bowl at your family dinner table. Then donate the funds to a poverty relief organization.

Since we've gotten started, our family outpouring of gratitude has taken on a life of its own. My daughters have been leaving notes and gifts for our mail carrier, for their servers at restaurants, and for friends at school. My original plan was to complete one name from our jar every few days, but the momentum is building. We just may complete our extensive list before Thanksgiving, which will give us time to start our own family appreciation journal!

Now that we've overcome the awkward feeling of approaching others with unabashed gratitude, the whole process has become easier. With luck, this new habit will carry our family - and perhaps yours as well - through the new year.