We have no right to ask when a sorrow comes, “Why did this happen to me?” unless we ask the same question for every joy that comes our way.  - Author Unknown

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.  - Thornton Wilder

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.      - G. K. Chesterton

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Even if you are new to this blog, I think it’d be hard to miss that I’m a huge fan of consciously practicing gratitude.  The science behind it is robust, and there is little more that I want for my children than for them to be, as Wilder says above, conscious of their treasures.

So I love love love Thanksgiving, and not because of the food.  Here are my two favorite Thanksgiving gratitude traditions.

1) Every year my friends travel to a small town in Northern California the weekend before Thanksgiving to celebrate together.  The core members of this group have been gathering like this for more than twenty years!  The highlight of the weekend comes during our Thanksgiving dinner—yes, I have turkey two weekends in a row, despite my vegetarian leanings—when everyone gives a toast to the past year, and of course what they feel grateful for.

My friends are a particularly appreciative bunch, and the go-around the table can often last an hour or more.  The main focus, year after year, is on the others at the table.  Husbands give tearful tributes to their wives; friends detail all the ways that people at the table supported them through surgeries, kid mishaps, and job changes.  Most people only hear toasts like these at their weddings—or they never hear them at all, as often we only celebrate people so publicly in memoriam, when the person being honored is no longer alive to revel in the love of their friends. 

© Ben Zelazny

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing,” wrote Voltaire.  “It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” Well, I feel lucky each year to get to “own” what is excellent in my friends, as Voltaire suggests, by appreciating them.

2) Back at home I also have a favorite Thanksgiving tradition.  The kids fold pieces of construction paper in half, and make them into humongous place cards, gluing leaves to the front and doing their best to spell everyone’s names.  Then, when the turkey is still in the oven, each family member finds time to sneak away from football and silently saddle up to the dining room table. There they write on the inside of the place cards, noting what they are thankful for about each person named on the front of the card.

At Thanksgiving dinner, we go around the table and read out loud one or two things that someone else has written about us.  What I love about this is that there is both a private and a public component to our gratitude. 

This Thanksgiving, here is my toast to you:

Deep, heartfelt thanks for your presence, for your wonderful comments, and for your stimulating discussion.  I feel great gratitude that I get to write this blog for the Greater Good Science Center, and for the faculty and staff there that make my work possible, like Ann Shulman, Dacher Keltner, and Susan Fassberg.  I’m particularly grateful to Jason Marsh, who makes the whole Greater Good website happen and swiftly edits my columns each week, to my research assistant Rachel Lee, and to Janine Kovak, who created and now moderates the community gratitude journal.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thanks as well to Linda Graham for the quotations; you can subscribe to her weekly emails, loaded with inspiring quotations, by going to www.lindagraham-mft.com.

© 2010 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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