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3 Family Traditions That Will Help Cultivate Gratitude After a Very Difficult Year

Posted by Sarah Otto on
3 Family Traditions That Will Help Cultivate Gratitude After a Very Difficult Year

It’s been a tough year. Okay, a bad year. You know what? Let’s call it like it is: 2020 has been a terrible year.

Honestly, I can’t even find the words that actually describe how awful this year has been.

We’ve all been affected by this pandemic in so many ways—the biggest tragedy of all is the thousands of lives lost. But at the very least, all of us have been forced to separate ourselves from family and friends for months on end, which has proven to be very challenging for our mental health. Jobs have been lost and financial strain has been felt by a significant portion of the population. Children have lost education, time with friends and cancelation of beloved sports and activities.

And if that wasn’t enough, our emotions have run wild as racial injustice has been brought to light and politics have been debated to no end.

I joke with my friends about each new layer of this complicated time that this has to be the worst year ever. However, deep down, I know that it could always be worse.

I also realize that my children are watching me closely to see how I react to every new difficulty 2020 has presented. So, I turned to Google to help me find the answers (as one does). Turns out, when you search “how to deal with difficult times,” the one word that consistently shows up is Gratitude.

So, I decided to continue researching gratitude. It seemed like such simple advice—how could it possibly have so much impact on such tough times? But as I dug deeper (thanks, Psychology Today!), I found some interesting insights:

Gratitude is not frivolous. It is not a luxury. It is a coping strategy. And it works. Practicing gratitude has been known to make us healthier (like reducing stress and improving sleep quality) and happier (boosting self-esteem and resilience, for the win!).

But what I found to be most notable about gratitude is this:

“It is during the most difficult times that gratitude must become a deliberate, active practice. You must seek it out and when you find it you must celebrate that goodness and soak it up.”

After much research, I came across three family traditions that will help you and your family soak up the goodness this holiday season by deliberately seeking out gratitude. Keep scrolling and let me know what you think in the comments.

1. Create a thankful tree or family gratitude journal.

It’s a simple act, but just writing down what you’re thankful for is one of the best ways to cultivate gratitude. If you’re crafty, cut out leaves and make a gratitude tree on your wall. It will make a beautiful Thanksgiving decoration—plus, it reminds your kids to say what they’re grateful for this time of year. One of my neighbors actually put one out in her front yard so those walking by can add to the tree. Super cute! At the very least, create a gratitude journal with your family and have everyone contribute. Each year, you can read through what everyone was thankful for in the past. We usually go around the table at Thanksgiving and say what we’re thankful for, but this year I want to try writing it down on either a gratitude tree or in a journal.

2. Volunteer as a family and make it a tradition.

Volunteering as a family helps to cultivate gratitude by helping those in need. Creating shoebox gifts for children, making snack packs for families at Ronald McDonald House or volunteering at a food pantry all teach our kids that they should be thankful for what they have. Not to mention, it just feels good to help others. Make a specific charity or volunteer opportunity a family tradition—your kids will look forward to it every year!

3. Celebrate our community heroes.

Now more than ever before, I am beyond grateful for our community heroes. From frontline workers to medical professionals, firefighters, police officers, mail carriers and grocery store workers—all of these amazing people have proven how dedicated they are to making a difference, even in the most challenging times! To celebrate those who have helped us so much this year, choose a “community hero” as a family and write thank you cards, bake cookies or create a gratitude care package for them. These hardworking individuals can never be told enough how much of a difference they make in our lives. This simple act ensures that your kids understand their sacrifice and dedication by celebrating them this time of year.


My ultimate hope is that my children see this year for what it is: difficult. But instead of continuing to feel frustrated, I want them to see the positive impact of moving forward and figuring out how to navigate hard times. One way to do this is with gratitude. Thanksgiving might be smaller this year with less family and fewer traditions, but hopefully it leaves more room for new traditions and cultivating gratitude even in a year that has presented so much difficulty.

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