Happy Almost-Thanksgiving!!  Smells of hot cinnamon apple cider and oven-roasted turkey are already wafting through the air!  So while you are getting all your Thanksgiving preparations in line, today we’ll explore fun and creative ways that you can prepare your mind to experience that feel-good gratitude.

Last week in The Power of Being Thankful we were reminded of all the good that comes to us through being thankful.  Better health, more positive emotions, increased social functioning.  Awesome!  Now how do we practice thankfulness?

As I went through school to become a counselor, I learned of all the benefits of gratitude.  And I became so excited!  I wanted to find a way to become more thankful in my own life, so I did the recommended exercise: write a list of 3 things you’re thankful for everyday.


It was like a 3 day fishing trip without a single bite.

I started out so motivated!  In the beginning, I was very good about writing my list of 3 things a day.  But it quickly became just a list.  I struggled to find any excitement after a couple weeks.  And I personally feel that it was because of 2 things:

  1. It was only self-serving
  2. It lacked creativity

For some people, writing this list can be very beneficial.  It just didn’t work for me, and that’s OK.

I say that the list was only self-serving because I created it for no other reason than an attempt to gain the benefits of being grateful.  There was no “giving back” component to the exercise.  A very large part of being thankful is expressing that gratitude to others.  Sharing with others that you are thankful for them is both generous and extremely uplifting to both you and them.

So here are some activities you can do alone or with someone to practice creative thankfulness.

365 Thank You’s

John Kralik was at one of his lowest points in life when he decided to focus on the things he did have rather than what he did not have.  In his low point, his business was failing, he was recently divorced, living in a cheap apartment, and his girlfriend just broke up with him.  He was miserable.

He started writing one Thank You note a day to someone.  Family, friends, co-workers – even vague acquaintances like the Starbuck’s barista!  As he began thanking others, his life was transformed.  People treated him differently, and he began to act differently.  He started to act in a way that was worthy of being thanked.

“…by the time I had written the 365 thank you notes I had set out to write, my life had been transformed in ways I could not have expected. As I saw how my children, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and even baristas had blessed my life and as I acknowledged their impact by writing to them, my blessings seemed to multiply… By showing others how their lives had meaning in mine, I found them reflecting back to me that my life also had meaning in theirs… Almost without intending to do so, I started to change my life in ways that would make me more worthy of receiving thank you notes myself.” Quote from his story here.

Thank-you notes are short and simple to write, and sometimes don’t even require a stamp to deliver.  If 365 sounds as intimidating to you as it does to me, write one note a week instead.  Try writing 52 Thank You’s this next year.  Let’s see how that gratitude transforms your life!

Thankful Picture-A-Day Challenge

I once found myself on a grueling 8-mile mountain hike that was mostly “uphill” on the way to the campsite.  The goal took about 11 hours to achieve with a 30lb backpack and getting lost once along the way.  In the beginning, I was miserable.  The mosquitoes were swarming, I was hot and tired.  I remember thinking to myself around mile 2, “How in the world am I going to finish 6 more miles of this?”  And I hadn’t even gotten to the hard part of the trail yet.


I felt exactly like Homer. Except there was an 80 year old man hiking right behind me.  There was no way I was going to quit if an 80 year old could do it.

So I started to take pictures of anything beautiful that I saw along my way.  I searched for the perfect angle and scenic background for each picture.  By focusing my attention on my camera and the beauty surrounding me, the last 6 miles of trail passed much easier than the first 2.  Even when the mountain became steeper and the trail turned into boulders that I had to climb.

You can use this in your own day-to-day life.

Try capturing one picture a day of something you are thankful for.  Make sure to choose the picture with care, capturing the essence of the blessing.  When you do this exercise with awareness, you find yourself searching all day for the blessings around you.  No longer do those things you are grateful for fade to the background of your life.  You begin to intentionally see them all around you.

You can make a Gratitude or Blessings or Thanksgiving Facebook photo album that you upload your pictures to.  Sharing will help others to think about the blessings in their own lives.  Or if you’re more private with your moments, you can print your pictures or save them on your phone.  The creativity of this Thanksgiving idea can be very unique to whatever works for each person.  Just have fun with it!

Thankfulness with Kids

Kids themselves are amazing little blessings that adults get to be thankful for!  Here are some fun ideas to do with those tiny humans in your life (Or as an adult-sized kid yourself!)

Nature Gratefulness Expedition

Take the kiddos for a walk outside.  Around the neighborhood, to your favorite park, wherever you feel like going.  Along the way, have them “collect” natural things they are thankful for.  They can record their answers on a piece of paper (good writing practice for grade-school kids), they can talk about their answers with you (for younger kiddos), or they can collect pictures of each answer (kids LOVE photography opportunities).

  • Find something beautiful.
  • Something small that you are thankful for.
  • Something big that you are thankful for.
  • A sound that you would miss if it was gone.
  • What smell is your favorite?
  • Something that is fun to touch.
  • What creature (animal or bug) can you find that does something to help you.

An alternative is to have the kids collect nature items, such as rocks, leaves, flower petals, sticks, or whatever is available. Then spell out a message to someone.  That message could be “We love you,” “Thank you,” “Wish you were here,” or any number of things they want say to that special person. Take a picture of their artwork and send it to a friend or family member.

Writing Mirror Thank-You’s to Family Members

Pull out the good old colorful dry-erase markers!!  Write thank-you messages to your family members on a shared mirror or white board!  This fun practice gets the whole family involved in complementing one another and “looking out” for reasons to write a thank you!  Kids love this one.  Just make sure they understand that only dry-erase markers are safe to use. We don’t want any permanent Thank-You’s in the bathroom mirror!

These were just a few fun ways to up your gratitude this year.  If you have any other interesting ideas, share in the comments below!  Have a great Thanksgiving, travel safely, and eat lots of turkey!!  I’ll see you back next week.