Children’s author Douglass Wood has this wonderful quote: “We don’t give thanks because we’re happy. We’re happy because we give thanks.”
It feels good to give thanks. The ancient and universal art of expressing gratitude helps us open our hearts to one another. It helps us to feel more present and pay attention to the diverse, complex, wild world we live in. We gain perspective when we give thanks, especially when life is challenging, and can feel more peace, empathy and compassion for ourselves and others. It is said that all beings need to feel appreciated, and offering gratitude helps us appreciate both who and what is around us.
The Haudenosaunee have a long tradition of offering gratitude. They refer to this practice as the “Thanksgiving Address,” and the words spoken are known as “the words that come before all else.” Taking the time to begin with thanks focuses everyone’s hearts and minds toward a feeling of unity.
The traditional Thanksgiving Address — the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen — is a way of expressing love, greetings, appreciation and acknowledgment to the entire natural world. It begins by acknowledging the people, the earth, all the beings in nature, the sky and celestial bodies, and finally that universal energy that moves through all things. It usually ends by giving thanks to all that has not been mentioned, ensuring that nothing is left out. This tradition was written into the Great Law of Peace which governs all the tribes of the Haudenosaunee and dates back to somewhere between 1450 and 1600.
While the traditional Thanksgiving Address is used in ceremony and can last for many hours or even days, there are so many ways to make gratitude a simple daily routine.
First thing in the morning, when eating a meal, or before you go to sleep are potent times to name your appreciations, whether alone or with others. Classroom teachers can begin each class by inviting students to share something they feel grateful for and could invite reflections on specific themes (i.e., family members, the season, a special holiday). Starting a business meeting with a few words of appreciation can help everyone feel welcomed and connected, and helps the “work” of the day flow more smoothly, including any potential challenges or conflicts. And remember one thing you feel grateful for during especially hard times is potent medicine for well-being.
At my place of work, we begin every program, meeting, and gathering with gratitude, beginning with appreciation to the original people of Vashon. The sx̌ʷəbabs are known today as part of the Puyallup Tribe. Vashon-Maury Island is within the tribe’s accustomed area for fishing and shellfish, and still today remains a vital part of the tribe’s cultural sovereignty. We offer gratitude for the privilege to gather, work, and learn on their traditional, unceded lands.
We acknowledge that they, and all Indigenous people, are still here, and we honor them as they stand strong in the face of generations of injustice. We give thanks for the ways in which they sustain a culture with a deep commitment and care for each other and the Earth. And we invite us all to commit to being good allies and honor their teachings so that future generations may live in harmony with each other and the Earth. It’s a powerful way to begin the day like this.
Thankfully, there truly is so much to feel grateful for. Think about all the people in your life: can you appreciate a relative, or a friend; a neighbor, teacher, or essential worker; or a new baby on the way? Maybe you have some precious memories that fill you with gratitude? Or you feel grateful for all the conveniences that make life easier: a car to get where you need to go; a washing machine to clean your clothes; technology to connect with your family and friends, especially now. Nothing is too great or too small to leave out. Whether sharing with a loved one or writing in your journal, giving thanks is a powerful way to remember the abundance in your life, every day.
What role does gratitude play in your life? As the season calls us each to turn inward, to store our energy for the coming winter, how will you prepare to enter the darkening days? What seeds do you wish to plant within you that might find their fuller expression in time? Whatever you choose, I invite you to tend it with care and an attitude of gratitude.
May this time of giving thanks bring you meaning, joy, and a deep connection with all beings.
Stacey Hinden has been practicing offering gratitude for 17 years. She is grateful to live on this beautiful island with her family and to work with the Vashon Wilderness Program, where she is reminded every day of the power of appreciation.