How to Practice Thanksgiving


What comes to mind as you think about this word? As you think about this holiday?

Historically, as best as I can research, Thanksgiving as a national holiday did not start until Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863. George Washington declared a “Thanksgiving Day” in November 1789 but it was only for that year. Washington’s purpose was to declare a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer...devoted to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” It is interesting to note that Lincoln’s declaration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was, at least in part, due to the tireless efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady Book. She heard about and became fascinated with that “historical” 1621 feast between the pilgrims and Native Americans. She wrote about it year after year in the magazine, posting recipes for turkey and pumpkin pie. She even wrote letters to governors of every state advocating for Thanksgiving to be a national holiday. Lincoln heard the call and responded.

While Thanksgiving as a holiday has roots in both virtue (i.e., thankfulness) and consumerism, it is clear that the holiday is connected to a sentiment of gratitude. Unfortunately, many of us get caught in the chaos of the holiday season. We live from one day to the next without slowing down to remember and be thankful for God and what He has done for us. We forget to be intentionally thankful for our families, churches, vocations, met needs, opportunities to serve others, and even the opportunities we have for growth through pain and struggle.

Pastors and psychologists are calling us back to a life of thanksgiving. Obviously, it is a part of our Christian faith. “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good!” resonates with a core sense of healthy spirituality and worship. Psychologists like Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough are pointing out the added benefits of gratitude and thanksgiving. For instance, we are seeing connections between gratitude and increased optimism, more positive emotions, better sleep, and healthier relationships. Researcher Paul Mills found that gratitude is related to less depression, less fatigue, and improved biomarkers of inflammation in heart failure patients. My point: gratitude is good for our body, soul, relationships, and spirit!

So, how do we practice gratitude, or thankfulness, throughout this Thanksgiving?

First, we need to understand what gratitude means before we can implement it. Researchers define gratitude as having a thankfulness and joy for both the gift and giver of the gift. Let that sink in for a moment. We must be intentional about having thankfulness and joy for the gift, which can be tangible or intangible, as well as the giver of the gift. Thankfulness fosters interpersonal connection.

How do we actually implement gratitude? While gratitude can be cultivated and practiced in a number of ways, I want to focus on one practical way that you can implement it during this Thanksgiving season: gratitude journaling. Below I have included some ideas to help guide you in your efforts to develop a healthy practice of journaling your gratitude. Additionally, Emmons and McCullough offer a simple thought to aid in your thankfulness journey. So grab a pen and some paper and let’s get started!

There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past week and write down up to five things in your life for which you are grateful or thankful.

Need some helpful tips? Dr. Mark McMinn, in his book The Science of Virtue, outlines a few points to consider:

Don’t overdo it.

You can actually develop “gratitude fatigue,” so only journal a few times a week.

It’s ok to remember problems and struggles.

Intentionally practicing thankfulness does not require us to forget struggle. It just helps put that struggle into a proper perspective.


McMinn says “try subtracting as you journal. Imagine what life might be like without your child, partner, faith, joy, or community. This helps us to recognize the gifts in life we might easily take for granted.”


Look for surprises in life.

People over things

Prioritize people this holiday season over material possessions.

I trust that this blog was encouraging and promoted thankfulness in your life! I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, especially as you foster gratitude in your life this year!