Thanksgiving usually includes turkey, sides, pumpkin pie and a feeling of fullness that renders everyone unable to leave the couch. All too frequently, however, the holiday goes by without more than a passing thought of gratitude.
Sure, there’s the typical tradition of going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for. That’s a powerful practice, and you’ll see big mental and physical payouts if you do it daily on your own. But many of us are left wanting more, especially when the world feels like it’s crumbling on a daily basis.
Fortunately, psychologists, therapists and other experts shared with us a few of the other ways to infuse Thanksgiving with meaning that will leave your heart as full as your stomach. The best part? These tips are as easy as (pumpkin) pie.
1. Read a Thanksgiving proclamation at your table.
“Look up Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, and read it to your family and friends,” recommends Kurt Smith, a relationship therapist in Northern California. “He wrote it in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War. As our country is significantly divided again, oftentimes even within families, it’s helpful to look back in history and see how we’ve come out of periods like this in the past and gotten better, closer and stronger as a country, fellow citizens and family members.”
2. Bake for your friends.
Psychologists say baking for others can relieve stress because it’s a creative endeavor that forces you to focus on the here and now, all while showing others that you love them. Seth Meyers, a Los Angeles-based relationship psychologist, recommends accessorizing your cookie delivery with a note of appreciation.
3. Interview your grandparents.
At your dinner, “use the time to ask older family members meaningful questions about their lives,” suggests Elisabeth LaMotte, a relationship therapist in Washington, D.C. “Asking grandparents questions about how they met, what they remember from their courtship, how they decided to marry and if they remember their first Thanksgiving as a married couple can spur memorable discussions. If your grandparents are no longer living, ask your parents if they know the answers. ... This may inspire empathy and compassion for your older relatives and generate a sense of thankfulness.”
4. Perform one random act of kindness.
“Wash your partner’s car, rake a neighbor’s leaves, or pick up the tab for the person behind you in the drive-thru,” says Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California. “Just becoming aware of the many opportunities to act with generosity and kindness can be transformative.”
5. Showcase the year in photos.
If you’re gathering with family or a specific group of friends, print out a collection of your favorite photos from the past year and display them gallery-style on the wall, suggests Houzz contributor Laura Gaskill. They’ll remind you of experiences you’re thankful for, and they have the power to make you feel happier too.
6. Take a compliment.
Thanksgiving is a timely occasion to learn how to accept others’ thankfulness for you, Howes says.
“Instead of reflexively dismissing praise for your perfect turkey as pure luck or resorting to your self-effacing humor when someone expresses their gratitude toward you, try pausing for a second to really take in the words and feelings behind them,” he tells HuffPost. “For many people, expressing appreciation is a vulnerable act, and you could hurt them if you blow them off. And with all the negative self-talk most of us drown in, hearing a counterargument could be a nice change.”
7. Set up a gratitude list for your guests.
8. Donate as a family.
Thanksgiving is a popular time to give to charity, but experts say feeling passion for the cause you’re donating to is more valuable than simply tossing out funds because you feel you should. Make it a bonding exercise by deciding where to donate as a group, says Sara Nason, marketing manager at Charity Navigator.
“Have a collective conversation with your family, and identify what you care about,” she adds. “Giving is an emotional thing; it’s a way to feel something. Give your money to something that will bring you closer.”
9. Review the real story of Thanksgiving.
Turns out the historical tale is much more grim than a gaggle of happy pilgrims encountering a friendly Native American named Squanto. Sharon Salzberg, a renowned meditation teacher and best-selling author, recommends studying the true origins of Thanksgiving and considering them from a Native American’s point of view. Doing so may inspire your family to learn more about issues facing the Native American community today.
10. Listen when you would usually speak.
Your attention is a gift, Kindness Blog points out. Give it to a relative who could use a listening ear.
11. Make the meal together.
“Our growing distance from any direct, physical engagement with the processes by which the raw stuff of nature gets transformed into a cooked meal is changing our understanding of what food is,” he writes on his website.
This year, give everyone a small task in cooking dinner to help them engage with the meal they’re about to enjoy.
12. Take a walk.
After the meal is done, resist the urge to zone out in front of the TV, and rally your group for a stroll around the block, the Greater Good Science Center recommends. Point out things around you ― the leaves, the crisp air, the friendly faces ― and name them aloud as things you’re thankful for.