Michigan therapist and mom Erica Carulli shares her “cheat sheet” to help your family find gratitude this Thanksgiving.

MICHIGAN—It’s almost time for turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. For my family, those are some of the few traditions and staples we can still look forward to this Thanksgiving. 

All our lives feel completely different this year due to COVID-19. Now, social distancing and CDC recommendations urge us to stay at home and celebrate with only your immediate family. And that’s what we’ll do. 

Normally, my family would visit relatives and eat lots of delicious food and watch football. We may get to see family and friends we haven’t seen all year. 

But this year is different—insurmountably different from years past, where we could gather with our entire families, without worries of spreading a deadly disease, and celebrate all the things we are thankful for. 

What a year this has been: a global pandemic, a historic election, virtual schooling, and working from home. It’s a year for the history books. 

Like your family, our household is navigating all of these things and to do it, I simply challenge myself and my family to choose to be grateful. 

We can still have a lovely Thanksgiving, even if it’s different. We can use this time to pay more attention to life’s fortunes, not mishaps. We can navigate the current pandemic with gratitude and perspective. 

My family is on a mission of completing a gratitude challenge, and I encourage you to incorporate it into your holiday tradition, too. What better a year to change things up, right?

Here’s a “cheat-sheet” to help your family get started: 

Gratitude Practice How-To: Pandemic Edition

  1. Slow down
    Take a moment every day to slow down and take in the world. Choose to be mindful of the beauty of your world. 
  2. Start taking notes 
    Find a way to catalog your experiences. Choose a journal practice to record things you are grateful for regularly.  
  3. Find the silver lining 
    Revisit past experiences to find the good and choose to see the good in the present moment.
  4. Give yourself grace
    Acknowledge that developing a gratitude practice takes time, energy and effort. Choose to give yourself time to get the hang of it. 
  5. Present circumstances
    Remind yourself of circumstances. Currently, a good reminder is that we are all struggling through a global pandemic. Choose to remind yourself that the extenuating circumstances out of your control will ultimately change the way you practice. 

What Exactly Is Gratitude?

Being grateful describes the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. I believe it’s also describing gratitude in terms of being able to acknowledge and observe the goodness in our lives, with an open heart. 

So what is gratitude? In short, the ability to recognize the good. But what does that really mean? What does that look like? How can we become more aware of the good things happening around us? How can we show our gratitude to our loved ones, especially now?

When we are feeling thankful, we can describe that feeling as gratitude. For example, I am thankful for the sunshine. That feeling can be described as gratitude. 

By being thankful, I understand it is important. By being grateful, I recognize its beauty and importance. 

Anyone can hone their gratitude skills. I start talking with my family and clients about gratitude by beginning with a simple practice of mindfulness. 

Pay attention. Pay attention to the miniscule things happening around you. Pay attention to the present moment. Acknowledging the beauty in that particular moment without judgment or criticism. 

Pausing regularly to take in the world around you. Utilizing your five senses to take in your world and recognizing how beautiful it really is.

 The ability to practice gratitude is also good for your health; being optimistic keeps us open to see the positive things around us. 

People who practice gratitude are maintaining mental wellness for themselves. We can inadvertently begin to see the good, when before, we may not have been able to recognize it, therefore shifting our mental health. 

How Can We Show Loved Ones Gratitude in a Global Pandemic?

Before COVID-19, we could express our gratitude in physical ways, handshakes, hugs and other appropriate physical connections. Now, due to social distancing and following CDC guidelines, these things aren’t recommended to avoid the spread of the virus. 

Showing others gratitude now may look more like a wave, interaction on social media or a socially distanced, masked visit. Or maybe we choose to write a letter or note, expressing our gratitude.

Right now we are required to shift the expectation of how to show our friends and family we are thankful for them. We cannot sit around a thanksgiving table and share these things as we may have in years past. We must be creative with our ideas. 

We are likely able to use technology to visit and share traditions. We are missing being physically together this year to avoid the possible spread of a deadly virus. 

We have a choice. We can choose to be grateful. We can choose to see the good. We can choose to share it with our loved ones this holiday. 

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