The Recipe for a Successful Thanksgiving Gathering

This year is going to be the first year my family and I celebrate #Thanksgiving without my dad.  As many of you know, my dad lost his battle with Alzheimer’s in July. Even though he has been “gone” for a few years now with that disease, every single year as far back as I can remember my seat at the table was the chair to his right. All the adult children would sit at the “big” table and all of the kids right next to us at the “kids” table.  During the meal, dad was in his element.  Most years, present at this day of thanksgiving was my mom, the six of us children, our spouses and 16 grandchildren/great-grandchildren.  Every Thanksgiving my dad would load up his plate, pour a glass or sweet tea, tell funny stories or jokes (that he would laugh hardest at) and always make each of the grand kids in particular feel extra special with a hug and a kiss on the forehead.

Over the years he lead the family by encouraging us in certain holiday traditions.  Every year that I can remember, this included meeting at our family farm, sitting around the same table with the precisely set out china, holding hands and saying grace (every time my dad stating before the prayer  “Keep it short, Mort – the Knicks play at 6” with the relevant joke to follow), every family member stating what they were most thankful for in the past year, and every pie being homemade (with cherry being his favorite).  After the meal we were always watching football, scanning the paper for #BlackFriday specials, playing never ending games of Spades, and, if weather permitted, participating in a very competitive game of football outside.  Great memories!

Well-Being, Gratitude and Rituals
So what does all of this have to do with leadership?  More and more we are working with leaders on their own and/or team’s well-being.  Well-being is the state of being happy, healthy and positive. Research indicates that rituals and gratitude have a strong correlation with being a healthy, balanced individual.   In fact, gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous. Research reveals that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, have reduced depression, and report feeling more joyful than other people  Additionally, gratitude increases self-esteem especially when an individual is able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.  Not to mention the positive impact thankfulness has on those around you!

Rituals are also incredibly important.  Rituals afford us a sense of belonging, sync us with nature and the seasons and provide us with a sense of renewal.  Rituals provide an ongoing way to structure our lives and creates a sense of stability and continuity amidst the ever-changing, hectic and often chaotic world in which we live. Traditions give us a way to connect to family, past and present and tie us to our ancestors and to our heritage.

In looking at all of the positive benefits of gratitude and rituals, it’s a great time of the year to put that knowledge into action!  I am always of the belief that incorporating fresh ideas into your personal or professional life can help you get a different perspective and make things more meaningful.  So, with that, I am giving you a recipe to do just that!  Below are 8 different ways to put a twist on your holiday.  My family has done #2, 4, 7 and 8 in past years and they worked beautifully! There are also a few I haven’t incorporated so I’ll be trying them right along with you.  Personally, I’m thinking number #5 and 6 would be perfect for my family Turkey Day this year.  Enjoy!

8 New Gratitude Activities for the Whole Family

  1. Pass the Gratitude Basket. Give everyone a sheet of paper and a pencil. Then ask each person to write down one thing that makes them feel grateful and put it into a basket. Pass the basket around the table and have everyone read another person’s paper, followed by the group guessing who wrote it.
  2. Take a Treasured Family Photo.  Thanksgiving day can be a flurry of activity and often it’s all over before you realize you missed a great opportunity to take group photos, especially with relatives or friends you don’t see often. Unless the weather is terrible, get outside early in the day and take advantage of the natural light. You could even set up a themed photo booth or use props to incorporate a little fun into it.
  3. Thanksgiving Show and Tell. Ask everyone to bring along something to the family gathering that reflects what they are thankful for that year. Then each person, in turn, can share it with the group and tell their story. It might be an item, a photo, a song, or any other item that illustrates their point.
  4. Hold a Thanksgiving Talent Show. Have a karaoke machine ready to go, let the musically inclined family members showcase their talent, or have the kids create their own play and perform it for the family.  Honestly, I have video of year’s past when my kids put on productions and they are priceless.
  5. Create a Gratitude Mural.  At your Thanksgiving feast, post up on a wall a roll of butcher paper with pens and a sign instructing visitors to document what they’re thankful for.  Encourage the kids to draw pictures then leave it at the grandparent’s house for them to enjoy.  It’s like one big group gratitude journal that will be enjoyed for weeks.
  6. Interview the Grandparents.  At your dinner, use the time to ask older family members meaningful questions about their life.  This will likely inspire compassion and connection between the generations and help create a sense of thankfulness.  Questions might include:
  • What did you do for Thanksgiving as a kid?
  • How did you parents choose your name?
  • When did you know that you had found “the one”?
  • What were you like in high school?
  • What historical U.S. event will you never forget living through?
  • What is your favorite family tradition?
  1. Thanks All Around. Assuming your Thanksgiving table is filled with close friends and family, and not guests who are meeting one another for the first time, go around the table and invite each person to say why they’re thankful for the person sitting next to them. It can be the person on their right, left, or even both sides.  People love the acknowledgment and it really brings energy to the table.
  2. End the Day Outside.  After the meal is done, resist the urge to zone out in front of the TV or take a nap.  Rally your crew for a stroll around the block, play football or sit around an outdoor fire with a glass of wine and/or hot chocolate. After all of that cooking and eating indoors, it feels lovely to step out into the crisp air.
Here is my Holiday Challenge:  Incorporate one of these items during your Thanksgiving celebration.  Hopefully, it will deepen already strong connections and give you an even greater sense of well-being so that when you head back to work on Monday morning you feel renewed, appreciated and content!