Most of us genuinely want to take a moment between scarfing turkey and enjoying the football this Thursday to give thanks for all that's good in our lives. But that really doesn't necessarily mean that most of us look forward to hackneyed Thanksgiving rituals like going around the table telling your relatives one thing you're grateful for.

As anyone who's experienced this sort of well-meant but kind-of-awkward family tradition can tell you, forced public gratitude is less likely to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy than it is to stress you out about what exactly to share.

And apparently science is on the side of those folks who find this sort of typical Thanksgiving gratitude ritual less than fulfilling. "According to research...feeling socially pressured to perform a certain happiness practice means it's less fitting for us. Psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky and Ken Sheldon suggest that the best happiness practices are ones we choose, not ones we feel forced into based on our circumstances," explains a special Thanksgiving article from UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.

Instead of mandatory public expressions of thanks, the post offers three alternative ways to encourage genuine gratitude this Thanksgiving. It claims these ideas are research-validated and more likely to actually remind you and your guests of all that you have to be grateful for this holiday season.

1. A pre-meal gratitude meditation

Your family might already have a special pre-meal prayer or ritual, but for those looking for a secular option, Greater Good offers this suggestion for a Thanksgiving gratitude meditation from Jack Kornfield's book, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace:

With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day. With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.

If that's not your style, simply asking those gathered around your table to engage in a moment of silent reflection before they tuck in can help focus everyone's attention on the things they're thankful for (without the stress of the public share).

2. Ask guests to imagine themselves alone at the table

For most of us, one of our greatest blessings is our loved ones. In order to truly appreciate how much goodness they bring to your life, consider suggesting that everyone take a moment to imagine what life would be like without their nearest and dearest. Encourage guests to recall where they first met the most important people in their lives and to ponder how their lives would be different had things had gone differently and their paths never crossed.

3. Write letters to each other

"In advance of dinner, ask your Thanksgiving guests to write short gratitude letters to read at the table. A gratitude letter expresses appreciation for someone--a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague--who made an impact on your life but hasn't been properly thanked. The letter can detail what they did, why you feel thankful, and how your life is different today," explains the post. Just make sure no one is stressing out about style or grammar. The sentiment is all that matters here!

What's your family's Thanksgiving gratitude ritual?

Published on: Nov 26, 2015
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