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Gratitude Day: A New Tradition

written by Derrick Carpenter 22 November 2007

Derrick Carpenter, MAPP '07, is a founder of Vive Training where he coaches individuals and corporate clients on creating high-engagement lifestyles through physical and psychological wellness. Full bio.

Derrick's articles are here.

Macy's Parade

Macy's Parade

Holidays, such as Thanksgiving, are times for tradition. The idiosyncrasies that make up my family’s holiday traditions are precisely the reasons I look forward to the holiday season all year. What would this fourth week in November be in America without turkey, football, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? My personal Thanksgiving favorites include enjoying my mom’s indulgent chocolate cream pie and our family game of Trivial Pursuit after dinner.

While most of the traditions in which I take part bring me closer to the important people in my life, it occurred to me recently that these traditions are gross misinterpretations of what the holidays were originally designated to celebrate.

Turkey feast

Turkey feast

Thanksgiving was first observed by European settlers in the United States as both a harvest festival and a religious observance. In its earliest forms, it was often a day of fasting. When the holiday was celebrated with a feast—which only happened in years when the harvest was generous—the meal consisted of foods native to America that were new to the European settlers. Given the New England climate and the technology of the mid-17th Century, these early Thanksgiving traditions were truly about giving thanks for things that couldn’t be counted on. We say grace before our meal, and I do feel grateful for the food, but it is quite a different kind of thanks knowing that grocery stores are open 24-hours throughout the holiday weekend.

Something has been lacking from my holiday traditions. My Thanksgiving was in need of repair.

As any fan of this website would do, I turned to positive psychology for an answer. Gratitude is one of the most researched and most lauded strengths investigated by the field (e.g., Gratitude – The Secret to Getting Back Up, Taking Positive Psychology to Work: The Role of Gratitude, The Energy of Gratitude), and it has no better place in American culture than today; Thanksgiving is Gratitude Day! My set of Thanksgiving traditions, albeit cosy and harmless, was missing meaningful and personal gratitude. So this year I set out to establish a new Gratitude Day tradition: to compile a list of one hundred things I am sincerely grateful for within the past year.

night skyIn order to maintain some authenticity, I required that each list item be something personal (I couldn’t be grateful that puppies exist) and non-obvious (I couldn’t be grateful for the air I breathe). I was quite intimidated to start the list, fearing that I may have a very difficult time getting through it. About a dozen or so came right out, as things that I had been thinking about while conceiving the list idea in the first place, including a handful of poignant conversations with close friends and the gorgeous night sky I saw in Oregon earlier this fall on my long bike trip down the West Coast.

Star gazing with a friend (Kevin Gillespie)

Star gazing with a friend
(Kevin Gillespie)

And then I felt stuck for a minute or two. But once I got into a stride, points of gratitude came from every direction: the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the experiences from which I learned and grown! By the time I jotted down the hundredth thing, I sat back in amazement over how full this year has been. A daily gratitude journal can be very fulfilling, but looking back on much larger time scales—like a year, or a decade—can be incredibly powerful and might give you, as it gave me, some meaningful perspective on life.

I intend to uphold the creation of this list as an annual tradition on Gratitude Day. Now that I am more aware of how fortunate I am, I feel better prepared to face the coming weeks of Christmas insanity with a clear head. I highly recommend this exercise for anyone seeking a positive-psychology-inspired way to reconnect with the deeper meanings and older traditions of the holiday season.

Happy Gratitude Day!

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Senia 23 November 2007 - 12:57 pm

Really fun to read your article. I could imagine you getting more and more caught up in the details as you remembered about the year. One hundred things every Thanksgiving – neat tradition, thanks! Reminds me of another new tradition that I read about this year – following up monthly on Groundhog’s Day Resolutions – every 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, etc. There’s also something wonderful about creating a new tradition that’s just your own. Thanks for the idea, Derrick.

Cathy Hartt 23 November 2007 - 1:50 pm

Derrick – I like this. I started a tradition of sending “Happy Gratitude Day” e-cards a few years ago. I use my Fall photography, so in a way I can savor Fall colors while also sharing gratitude with others. As for a list of what I am grateful for, I also design my own Christmas Cards each Thanksgiving – and part of my design is a listing of my 12 blessings for the year. This is now my “Christmas letter” – reading between the lines of the blessings (each with a short explanation), one gets a Christmas letter with a very positive focus. Thank, again. I say we change the name to Gratitude Day!!!

Susan McKay 24 November 2007 - 5:53 pm

I liked your comments very much. Thanks for offering your clear, meaningful insight.

Dalida Turkovic 3 December 2007 - 12:30 am

Hi Derrick, it was interesting to read your article and as I am not American and Thanksgiving was not part of my upbringing I am amazed how gratitude shifts my perspective. I started writing Gratitude Journal a month ago and I am now totally addicted to that positive feeling that is generating positive outlook, more creativity and proactive approach to life. Your idea of doing year/decade gratitude list is another insight I gain. Thanks for sharing!

Saira M Khan 13 May 2009 - 10:06 pm

Hi Derrick,
As some other readers have mentioned, I am not an American either, but I could totally relate to your observations and thoughts about how many of us have that something missing in our holidays; and how we can re-invent the completeness with a touch of personalization and Gratitude. No doubt Gratitude has been presented as the basis of contentment and satisfaction in a variety of religions. Even though I have read them so late, I find your articles truly insightful.
Best of luck in everything!

Kathy Paauw 30 July 2012 - 12:55 pm

Derrick, thanks for sharing your insightful article about Gratitude Day. I know you wrote this years ago. Gratitude is timeless, and it is as important today as it was in 2007.

For the past six years, I have had a daily ritual of beginning my day by sending a card of gratitude in the mail to someone who has touched my life. This practice has set a positive tone for my day, and it has done amazing things for my relationships with others, too. I’m not sure who benefits most…the sender or the recipient!

I invite people to take a 30-Day Gratitude Challenge, where they commit to sending a gratitude card each day for 30 consecutive days. Those who want to learn more about this Challenge can visit http://www.socGratitude.com/kathy. I’m also happy to share an Internet-based tool I have been using to help me send a real paper greeting card in the mail (not an e-card) for about a dollar a day.


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