Practicing Gratitude in Community

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love the food (dressing, green bean casserole, and pecan pie specifically!). And I love the tradition of pausing to intentionally reflect on what I’m grateful for. I’ve been enjoying all the posts on social media about gratitude this month and have had the pleasure of working with the topic in a special class I’m currently teaching.

As I began to think about what kind of gratitude practice I wanted to offer you this year, I became overwhelmed by the amount of violence in our world. I knew that I wanted to explore the concept of gratitude in a more complicated way than I normally do. I knew I wanted to explore it beyond the lovely simplicity of self-reflection. I wanted my exploration to reach beyond my individual self.

Over the past couple weeks, an idea has slowly been building in my mind. I’ve created an experiential study of gratitude—one designed to help us surface some of our assumptions and to help us deepen the conversations we have about gratitude around our Thanksgiving tables.

I invite you to choose five people: a family member, a close friend, someone you work with, an acquaintance, and a stranger. The first four should be real people that you’re willing and able to talk to. For the stranger, I invite you to be daring. Choose someone completely different than you. Someone you might never actually get to meet. Someone that you don’t understand or maybe even fear. Give the stranger an imagined name, personality, and a broad sketch of history. You don’t have to write an essay about this stranger, but take the time to really imagine who this person is.

For the experiment, you’ll begin with your own reflections on gratitude. And then you’ll take time to think about what you assume other people are grateful for and what you think they would assume you’re grateful for. Then I invite you to actually have a conversation—in which you share your assumptions, ask for their assumptions, and share in the reactions that arise from them. Let the discussion go where it does. And, of course, after the conversation take time to reflect on the experience.

I’ve created a workbook for you with all the steps, questions, and space for journaling. There’s a page for each of the five people. Click here to download the workbook.

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