Traditions of Gratitude: The Gratitude Tree

November is the month of gratitude — one of our very favorite topics at Gardenuity. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I always look for ways to cultivate and express gratitude as the month begins: gratitude traditions, if you will.

It will surprise no one that growing a garden is my absolute favorite way to grow gratitude (and, in my opinion, the most effective way). However, many years ago, I created our own gratitude tree: a gratitude tradition that recurs every November now and involves the entire neighborhood.

The gratitude tree began when Jillian, my daughter, was born. At the time, Jillian was incredibly sick — in and out of the hospital — which is terrifying enough. To top it off, we were living in a new city and Madison (my older daughter) was just two. I was in a moment of helplessness and feeling down on life.

On an impulse, at the beginning of November, I decided to take a large branch from my yard and place it in my house. I vowed to myself that, everyday, I would find something to be grateful for, write it on a card, and hang it on the branch.

At first, it was hard. In the beginning, I wrote things like, “Jillian ate an ounce of food in one sitting,” or “The electric bill came in ten dollars less so we could afford new shoes for Madison.” Sometimes it was very simple: “Madison fell asleep holding Jillian’s hand.”

I wrote things that were huge blessings and small heart-warming things. Over time, it got easier. Our situation didn’t necessarily change, but I was suddenly able to see the good that already existed in my life. And, slowly, I felt more hopeful about me and my family. I felt generally happier.

That November I began to really understand that real gratitude is a verb; it requires action. When practiced, it grows. When it grows, our lives become happier and fuller. Because of the fulness and growth of this practice, I named our branch the gratitude tree.

Now, the “gratitude tree” goes up every November without fail. My daughters are grown and love to participate. Madison will write funny things and her friends come over and participate.

We all write at least one card every day — like clockwork. Some days it’s harder than others, some days our notes feel a little trivial. But hidden in all of the small goodnesses are real gems.

Then, on Thanksgiving morning before brunch, we gather and go through all of the cards on the tree. It’s a beautiful moment of acknowledging the good in our lives, expressing verbally the gratitude we’ve been growing over the past month, and breaking routine to share our thanks.

The gratitude tree has become one of my favorite traditions of all time. It’s one that truly makes me happier.

The reality is, it only take a few minutes regularly to change your life with gratitude. Here are some other traditions to adopt that will make your life fuller.