November is a great month for being "THANKFUL" with a capital T. Browse the dollar spot at Target (you know you wanna) and you'll find about 25 things with "thankful" splashed across it. Water bottles, little hanging signs (like the one I have hanging in my dining room currently), candles and dish towels, tote bags and wine glasses, it's kind of endless.
Starting bright and early on November 1st friends on facebook embark on thankfulness "challenges" where they come up with something to be thankful for each day. They will write long paragraphs about how thankful they are for friends and family, their pets and passions, babies and boyfriends and careers and health. This is all GREAT, don't get me wrong, but we have all seen the gung ho thankfulness warrior run out of steam around the 19th where they're like "Don't have a lot of time for this today, but I'm thankful for Stranger Things" (which really, aren't we all?). And thankfulness kind of takes a dive sometimes once the turkey is cooked and eaten.
When it comes to kids, too, the thankfulness thing can be kind of routine. Gather your beloved offspring around a table and ask them what they are "thankful for" and most likely they will respond with some beautiful but obvious answers like "my family" or "my friends" which, again, SO CUTE AND SWEET but can kind of lose the impact in the performance, which is why I love the Thankful ABCs practice.
Something even my younger kids can do, the Thankful ABCs are super easy on the surface, but can keep you so engaged that it becomes a daily practice. The basics are just that, basic: each day (or night, I do it as I'm falling asleep) you come up with something you are grateful for corresponding with each letter of the alphabet. Be it big (like your health) or small (like leftover Halloween candy), don't put too much thought into it, really. Just let it pop into your mind and try to come up with new ones for each letter every day.
The Thankful ABCs are the perfect mix of structure and spontaneity. Because you have the guidelines of the beginning letter, it's easy to get started, but because the options of what to be thankful for are wide open it can actually get you into some deep level thankfulness when you come up with things you don't consciously feel gratefulness for on a daily basis.
It helps the kids, and myself, also open up and explore the idea of being thankful for those little things that keep our days humming along and make us smile. Apples and bus drivers, coffee (okay that's a big thing) and donuts and earrings and fuzzy socks. It helps me remember that quite often thankfulness isn't just about the big things, it's also about the tiny daily details that sometimes slip past without us appreciating them.
Recent studies have also found that practicing gratefulness can actually help make us healthier. The idea is that when we think about what we appreciate, the parasympathetic or calming part of the nervous system is activated, and that can have protective benefits on the body, including decreasing cortisol levels and increasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone involved in relationships that make us feel good. Stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people, and having a daily gratitude practice could actually reduce the effects of aging to the brain (read more here).
I rarely make it through the whole alphabet, and I know when I'm just phoning it in and will start over (I mean, I like igloos I guess but I can recognize a baloney response when I come up with one). The challenge of finding the right word for each letter will keep me thinking until I can come up with something that truly has some meaning to me, be it big like individualism or innocence or little like ice cream or icing (letter I can be a tricky one).
I promise you, you will keep doing this long after Thanksgiving is over. When your mind won't settle down as you're falling asleep or you feel like you are having the worst day ever, just start at A, and let everything else go. It won't solve your problems but it will help you see the bigger picture, and the little picture, and everything else in between that you can feel thankful for. Nothing helps put things in perspective better than remembering you are thankful for quiet and roses and sprinkles and tiny toes and understanding and vaccines and warm houses.