What are some things for which you are grateful? Thanksgiving, the holiday of gratitude is one of my favorite holidays. It is a time to be together with family and friends and to celebrate our bounty and blessings. Most religions embrace gratitude as an important value. One of the core missions of the Jewish people is to feel and express gratitude and thanksgiving which is expressed in the very name of our people. The term “Jew” is a translation of the Hebrew word Yehudi, meaning from the kingdom of Judah. The name Yehuda (Judah), derived from the Hebrew word for gratitude, was named by his mother Leah as an expression of her gratitude for his birth. As the Bible states, “This time I will give thanks to God, and so she called his name Judah” (Genesis 29:35). As a Jew, I feel the responsibility to continue Leah’s legacy of gratitude.
One of the first prayers that I was ever taught in religious school was Modeh Ani (I give thanks…). My elementary school teacher taught me to recite this prayer every day upon awakening while thinking about something for which I am grateful. I have made this prayer part of my daily routine throughout my life. The prayer expresses gratitude to God who has given us another day of life, a true gift. The Jewish liturgy also includes a thanksgiving blessing (called Modim) that is recited three times a day. It expresses gratitude “for our lives that are entrusted in Your hand, and for the daily miracles that are with us.”
Feeling grateful does not come naturally. It takes cultivating. For this reason, I invite you to go around the Thanksgiving table this year and ask each of your family and friends to share one thing for which you are grateful. In addition, I want to share some practical ways to cultivate gratitude this Thanksgiving and throughout the year. The suggestions come from Tom Harrison Warren, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America.
- Keep lists: Look back over a day or a week and write down as many things as you can think of that you receive as a gift—things that are essential as breath or as frivolous as a good parking spot.
- Write Notes of Thanks: Take time to say thank you in writing to the friends and family who surround you.
- Compose your own Psalm: The Psalms are a way of expressing thanks to God. You can read a Psalm like Psalm 111 or Psalm 34 and alter the words to reflect the good things in your own life.
- Make a piece of art or a shrine: Instead of listing things for which you are grateful, create a space where you can draw, make a collage or otherwise represent things that remind you of the gifts in your life. This can include photos or sacred objects.
- Take a gratitude walk: Take to the streets (by foot, bike or car) and give silent thanks for what is around you (your favorite coffee shop, a burst of red leaves on a tree, a friendly neighbor).
We all have much to be grateful for. May we find meaningful ways to express our gratitude and to share our bounty. I wish you all a joyous and meaningful Thanksgiving celebration.