Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks: Developing a Daily Mindset of Gratitude

by Joshua

Thanksgiving is my least favorite meal of the year. I occasionally joke that I wouldn’t mind if we had Chipotle for our meal instead of the traditional turkey, dressing, and sides. Against my wishing and pleading and joking, our family divvies up the staples every year and comes together to watch football and eat food. But should this traditional meal matter at all?

Kendall's great grandmother

In high school, my friend Brenna and her mom asked me to volunteer with them at Mission Arlington early one Thanksgiving morning. We compiled meals for families coming through so they could cook their own turkey, dressing, and sides for their families. The experience was touching and impactful in so many ways. It reminded me of going to deliver Meals on Wheels with my great-grandmother (Mimi) when I was younger, running to and from the car with hot meals for the wonderful people on her route.  

During grad school in Williamsburg, Virginia, there was a year I couldn’t come home for Thanksgiving. My friend Caroline invited me to stay with her family in Maryland, and I accepted. We cooked different recipes than I was used to (beef wellington instead of turkey; my dreams came true!) and made different desserts, but her family took me into their home during a holiday and made me feel so welcomed.

Kendall and Caroline

One of their traditions was taking a walk on a nearby golf course every night. On our walk Thanksgiving night, I remember it being very chilly, but so clear. Every experience with their family was new but calming for someone spending time away from her family.  

This past year, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my mindfulness and reflecting on things that I’m thankful for. I even started a note on my phone with meaningful moments that happen to me on a day-to-day basis. These things can be small, like a conversation with a friend, or something huge, like an article in the Dallas Morning News about an exhibition I worked on. The act of “taking note” helps me stop and really take in what makes me proud, happy, or grateful for the work I do and the people I know. 

This small exercise is also becoming a habit where I ask myself, Is this something worthy of going on my “positives” note in my phone? Even if it doesn’t make the cut, I’ve allowed myself to enjoy more moments in my day and things I may not have noticed or acknowledged otherwise.  

Kendall and her brother

This Thanksgiving I’ll spend with my family. I’ll make the staple dishes I’m always tasked with making (cranberry sauce and rolls) and help with whatever our host requests. I’ll sit in front of the TV after we eat to watch the Dallas Cowboys play, then I’ll head home and sit on my couch to read a book or watch a show. I’ll go through the motions I normally do on Thanksgiving, but with a new appreciation for the thankfulness I feel daily.  

On Thanksgiving Day, it’s a fairly common tradition to reflect over the last year and state, out loud, what you’re grateful for. I’ve found that acknowledging small (and huge) moments and making note of them when they happen has allowed me to actually know what I’m grateful for. Taking the time to stop and notice those moments, even on days when it doesn’t seem important, is the best kind of habit.

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