Being Specifically Thankful and Cultivating Gratitude

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Years ago, my family celebrated the Christmas holidays with a good friend of mine from Japan. Emi attended an American high school with me but when she moved back to Japan before the tenth grade, I worried we wouldn’t see each other again. Fortunately for both us, our parents arranged for her to stay with us for part of the holiday break that year. While she stayed with us, we often found ourselves discussing our favorite holidays and traditions.

She shared around the same time of year as our Thanksgiving, the Japanese celebrate Kinrō Kansha no Hi, or Labor Thanksgiving Day. It started out as a fall harvest celebration like the U.S. Thanksgiving, but has since become a national holiday that specifically celebrates Japanese workers.

It starts with giving thanks

Yes, both the U.S. and Japanese Thanksgiving holidays focus on giving thanks. Here, many folks share something they’re grateful for in the days leading up to the holiday or even begin their Thanksgiving meal by sharing sentiments of thanks with friends and family. As my five-year-old indicated on his turkey assignment today, “I’m thankful for food.” But in Japan, giving thanks on Labor Thanksgiving Day is much more specific.

Labor Thanksgiving Day is about being thankful for all the laborers or workers and expressing that gratitude. Often, children make thank you cards or small gifts for municipal workers like police officers and firefighters.

I remember Emi sharing “her” Thanksgiving tradition with me and thinking it took giving thanks to the next level. Instead of generally “being thankful”, the Japanese are specifically thankful to those workers who keep them safe and healthy. Workers who may not get very many thank you’s on a typical day. And, they don’t just think it but they share it either in person or via gifts and cards. Something about it just seems so much more meaningful to me.

Be specific with your gratitude

So, what can we learn from Labor Thanksgiving Day? My big takeaway is specific gratitude goes a long way to make others and yourself feel better. In fact, research shows people who are grateful and share their gratitude with others, tend to be healthier and happier. They have lower stress levels, cope better with adversity, sleep better and are less likely to develop symptoms of depression. What’s more, they’re generally more satisfied with life. Even the people around them tend to be more content.

When we cultivate gratitude, we are able to focus on what we have instead of what we lack. 

Consider some of the following exercises to launch this week as we take a moment to be specifically thankful.

Write thank you notes

When was the last time you sent a thank you note via the U.S. Postal Service (you know, with a stamp)? Next time you catch yourself popping open a new email message to say, “Thanks,” consider a handwritten note as an alternative.

Count your blessings, literally

Instead of dwelling on everything that’s gone wrong, make a list of what’s going well. And, YES, the little things matter just as much as the big ones. Even when I was quarantined in my bedroom, away from my family because of COVID, I found myself grateful for my friends and family who regularly checked in with me via text and FaceTime. They brightened my day and helped me stay optimistic about the future.


Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the moment without judgement. Some prefer to focus on a word like “peace” during meditation but you could use meditation as reflection time for what you’re thankful for — like the sunshine, quiet mornings, thoughtful colleagues, etc. I’m definitely a novice when it comes to meditation, but I found this video to be helpful as I made more of an intentional push in my day to take a break from the world around me and focus on the good more than the bad.

Provide verbal acknowledgement

This isn’t for everyone, but I find this one extremely important as I want the people around me to know I’m grateful for them as soon as possible. Make the time in team calls and meetings, preferably at the beginning, to allow for team members to acknowledge one another and be specifically thankful. And, as a leader, don’t forget to call team members to express your gratitude directly for a job well done. Your actions will spur others to do the same and we could all use a little bit more good news these days.

This Thanksgiving, I encourage everyone to be specifically thankful. If you are able to celebrate the holiday with friends and family, consider sharing how much it means to you to be surrounded by loved ones during such an uncertain time. If you’re celebrating with a smaller group than usual, perhaps a quick phone call or FaceTime is all you need to tell someone how grateful you are for their love and support — even if it is from afar.

Regardless of how you celebrate the holiday, take the time to consider what’s good around you and enjoy it. Happy Thanksgiving!


To read more from Lauren Littlefield, check out her article “Creative Solutions: A Back to School Realization.”

And, you will likely enjoy “A Love Letter to Leaders” by Leadership Consultant Stephanie Murphy.