In the United States, November is associated with Thanksgiving, a time to reflect on the bounties of our lives. That seemed an appropriate topic for this month’s family fun—with some harvest ideas thrown in for good measure.
- Did you know there is a company called Thanks.com? Really. It is dedicated to helping businesses make gestures of appreciation for a job well done, through cards, gifts, etc. It made me wonder, what would Thanks.com/kids look like? Or Thanks.com/family? If you were an entrepreneur (or perhaps a very wise employee of the original company) what kind of website would you create to give thanks to people in your family or class? What kinds of things might you thank them for? And what kinds of cards or gifts would you provide? Design the company, then think about which of the cards you might really create. Who are the people in your life who should have some surprise thanks?
- Research has actually demonstrated that being grateful can make you happier. For example, studies by Emmons and McCullough (2003) found that people who wrote journals focusing on the things for which they were grateful—rather than the hassles of the day or the events of the day—were happier, and even felt healthier! And where better to build happiness than in families? Think about how you could conduct a gratitude experiment of your own. How about creating a happiness meter, with dials to be set by each family member at the end of the day? Try it for a week, then try spending a few moments each day remembering the things for which you are grateful that day. See if the happiness meter ratings change. It isn’t exactly scientific, but I’ll bet it doesn’t hurt.
- Learn to say “Thank you” in different languages. This website gives many options, including links to recordings so you can hear the pronunciations. Pick a country other than the U.S. and think about what Thanksgiving might be like if it had been created there. What kinds of food might be featured? Imagine what kind of Thanksgiving banquet you might have in Thailand or Ghana or India. Perhaps you can cook something from another country and think about what things there might make people especially thankful—or what things from that country you enjoy.
- Harvest time is often a time of vegetables. Recently I saw a picture of a centerpiece for a fancy dinner table that featured a large head of red cabbage. It looked a little odd to me, and it made me think about which vegetables look beautiful to me. Take a trip to the produce aisle and decide which vegetables you think are most beautiful. Perhaps you’ll bring some home to decorate your table before you eat them. Or perhaps you’ll carve them into something amazing. Yours might not look exactly like the website, but these are fun to see anyway.
- Remember The Sound of Music? Listen to Julie Andrews sing, “My Favorite Things.” There are several versions online; here’s one that illustrates each favorite thing. Now, write your own set of lyrics. What are some of your favorite things—the things that make you thankful? Mine might start out “Honeycrisp apples and dark chocolate candy, bookstores with big chairs and wifi that’s handy….” OK, so it doesn’t have to rhyme, but it’s fun. You could do individual or family versions—with or without illustrations.
Here’s a bonus idea, just because it makes me thankful. In my community, one of the most lovely November traditions is an inter-faith Thanksgiving service all about gratitude. Christians of various kinds, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Native American Shamaans–it doesn’t seem to matter what faith tradition you choose, each one has something to say about the subject. If you are interested in talking to someone about a faith that is new to you, asking what they teach about gratitude could be an interesting way to start. Learning to understand one another a bit better is an especially good reason to be grateful.
Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-bing in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
84, 2, 377–389.