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Connect to the roots of “thanks-giving” with this deep and little-known gratitude practice that can alter your perspective on life in only 30 minutes.


We all know that Thanksgiving is more than turkey legs, pumpkin pie, and full bellies. It was originally meant as a celebration of friendship and gratitude with the Native American people. 

Sadly, just as the early Americans eventually took more than their fair share from the Native Americans, today it can be easy to be greedy, overlook all the things we already have, and focus on what we don’t. (Cough cough, over-eating and black Friday mayhem, anyone?!)

I know you may be spending lots of time today and tomorrow carving turkey, but if you can carve out 30 minutes of your day (bad pun absolutely intended), you will find yourself naturally giving more thanks and getting back to the core of what the day is really about. 

Benefits of Gratitude

When I was working at a mindfulness center for 1.5 years, people gathered every morning to share things they were grateful for with the group. Many people commented that it was one of the best parts of their day, and that they noticed significant benefits in their mood, outlook, and connection to others. 

The research shows that gratitude can improve psychological health and even physical health. It can even improve relationships, since noticing the positives and giving thanks in relationship fosters deeper connection. 

Getting Back To The Roots

If you want to get back to the roots of gratitude this Thanksgiving and reap all the amazing benefits of the holiday (other than Aunt Suzie’s signature stuffing), I have a little-known practice to share with you that was developed by a Buddhist named Ishin Yoshimoto in Japan in the 1940s. While it has spread in popularity in Europe, few people know of it in the U.S.A. 

It is a deep, well-rounded, and potentially lifechanging practice that helps you self-reflect on the things you’ve given and been given in just 30 minutes. 


It’s called Naikan. Naikan is a method of self-reflection that means “looking inside.” It broadens your view beyond what you’re used to seeing and helps to increase gratitude for what you have. It helps you take an honest look at one aspect of your life: be it an entire year, a day, a holiday, or a single person, and reflect on your relationship with it with 3 simple questions. 

For a broad view, I suggest reflecting on the past year. For a clear, more up-close view, I suggest reflecting on the past day. (I’ve had the most insight while reviewing a single day.) Once you choose something, stick to it, and use the following questions.

Question 1: What have I received from ______?

(For example: What have I received from today?)

Ask yourself what you’ve received from this time, person, or thing. Go deep. You can include people in your life, the people who made, grew,  or harvested the things you used or ate, the land, weather, ancestors, streaks of luck, the kindness of strangers, or anything else you can think of.

Set a timer for 10 minutes and write as continuously as possible.

Question 2: What have I given to ________?

Now, ask yourself what you have given back to this time, person, or thing. Again, go deep. These could be kind words, material gifts, smiles, acts of service, listening ears, your time, financial resources, wonderful cooking… anything you can think of. Be specific and concrete.

Set a timer for 10 minutes and keep writing anything that comes to mind. 

Question 3: What troubles and difficulties have I caused _______?

This last question is the deepest and sometimes most confronting to answer. Seeing yourself as clearly as possible, reflect on any difficulties, intended or not, you may have caused to this time, person, or thing. You can also take some time to offer goodwill towards anyone you may have wronged in these final 10 minutes.

(Bonus) Question 4: Review your lists. What do you notice? Write it down. 

If things seem off-balance, what can you do to make it right? And most of all, notice how much you’ve been given that you’re normally not aware of, and take some moments to offer gratitude.

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