4 Ways You’re Doing Gratitude Wrong

by Abby on November 20, 2014

My 8yo son and I are on a mission to save Thanksgiving. Well, not so much save it, but help its image, like a Thanksgiving PR team. We get outraged when we see Christmas decorations up before Halloween. We cheer when we glimpse the stray pilgrim or turkey flag in someone’s yard. We are annoyed that Halloween prep goes on for weeks, and Christmas prep for MONTHS, and everyone seems to just skip over that little old underdog holiday in between.

Poor Thanksgiving. If it were a Peanuts character, it would be Charlie Brown. If it were in a wedding, it would be the homely bridesmaid. If it were a dessert, it would be carrot cake.

funny Thanksgiving card by EuclidStreetShop on Etsy

funny Thanksgiving card by EuclidStreetShop on Etsy

Now, personally, I love carrot cake. And I’m a vegetarian, so crusading for a holiday that centers around a bird carcass may seem unlikely. For my son, I think the appeal is the underdog thing. Why should the flashy holidays get all the glory? For me, it’s that Thanksgiving seems like a nice, calm, non-commercial celebration focused on the right things: food, family and friends, and being thankful for what we have, not making lists of what we want. (Although I’ve got my eye on a new laptop, Santa, hint hint!)

Gratitude gets a little tricky, though. Because lots of people do it wrong. Yep, I said it: YOU’RE DOING GRATITUDE WRONG. Who made me the gratitude police? I’m self-appointed, but that’s not the point. The point is, you miss all the benefits if you go about it like this:

Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Do you ever tell yourself (or your kids) that you SHOULD be grateful for something? I do, all the time. Not only doesn’t it work that way, it makes you feel worse. I have a good example of this. I dropped major duckets on tickets to a concert I thought my whole family would love. They didn’t, and I was annoyed, because I felt like they should be grateful. However, when I took my kids to a (free) book festival another day, they were overjoyed and appreciative and said so, repeatedly. (Of course, there was a whole comic book section there, so OBVIOUSLY a win.) On a related note…

Expecting it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the expectations will kill you. In fact, someone just wrote a book about it, which I totally plan to read. How many times have you done something nice for someone, or spent ages picking out the perfect present, only to have your efforts met with big fat silence? This happens to me ALL the time with my kids. However, sometimes they surprise me and lavish me with thanks for things I truly didn’t expect and didn’t think were a big deal. Like letting them have gum. Those unexpected and honest displays of gratitude are the best.

Aiming too high. Family, jobs, our health – those are all glorious things to be grateful for, but you can’t feel bad (or make someone else feel bad) if they’re thankful for smaller things. So when my kindergartener says he’s thankful for his DS and fried eggs, I’m not going to argue. One of my favorite social media campaigns going on right now is Real Simple’s #simplygrateful on Twitter. People are posting gratitude for wine, ice cream, movies, and that their kid finally stopped throwing up. (P.S. Editor Kristin van Ogtrop is hilarious.)

simplygrateful tweet

Making a public display. I admit I’ve done it – forced everyone at my Thanksgiving table to announce what they’re thankful for before allowing them to tuck in to the delicious feast. And there’s nothing wrong with saying aloud or online what you’re grateful for, of course. But the private gratitude you feel in your heart but don’t share with the world is important, too. Every night before I go to bed, I try to think of at least 3 things I’m grateful for that day. Spoiler alert: I have never stopped at just 3.

I do believe that gratitude is like a muscle, and that the more you use it, the more you feel it. You just can’t go around flexing in everyone’s face while wearing Lycra and bragging about how much you go to the gym and telling them they MUST take this amazing spin class you go to every morning at 5:30 a.m.

Happy Thanksgiving, and may your holiday be filled with small, unexpected, and even invisible moments of gratitude.

Flashback O’ The Day: Remember last year’s Thankful Turkeys project? Only because Gratiturkeys didn’t catch on.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy at kissing the frog November 24, 2014 at 11:21 pm

I love this post, Abby. And I love carrot cake, too. I think the holiday is about so much more than turkey and food. I am going to look for the small, unexpected reasons to be thankful. 🙂


Abby November 25, 2014 at 9:41 am

Thanks, Kathy – Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!


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