Are there certain things that trigger almost everyone to feel thankful? Close your eyes and then imagine the smell of food cooking over an open fire, or the sound of a baby giggling, or remember the softness of an older person’s hand around yours.

I suspect people from almost every culture would have good thoughts surrounding those “everyday” kinds of things.

Image: Winding road in Vermont fall landscape

Source: Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Today on EWC we bring you a little thought experiment that you can do to discover more of these precious, simple things that inspire gratitude and remind us of our shared humanity.

We did this with our office staff of 15 a few years ago, and this week we will ask our patients to join us. Here’s what this little experiment looks like:

Several years ago, during the worst of the economic downturn in the U.S., we did this unexpectedly magical exercise to bring up everyone’s spirits. We simply posted a legal-sized piece of paper that read,

“I am thankful for…”

Image: Girl with Huge piece of cake

Source: Dr. Lynda

We taped it up on the cabinets in our lab for two weeks before Thanksgiving, in a place where every single team member routinely passed. And as the days went by, all of us contributed our thoughts. I still look at the results from time to time with that warm smile I mentioned earlier.

Surprisingly, nothing expensive or intrinsically valuable made the list. It was all the small things that we often take for granted.

And the best thing about it?

Well, we were all surprised at what we had in common, and half the fun was being reminded of little things we didn’t think to put on the list ourselves. Almost every day more than a few people would exclaim, “Oh! I love that too!” and then several would share a story surrounding a single item. What a joy.

It brought us together more than any single thing we had done in many years.

It’s always a good time to remind each other of the goodness, beauty, abundance that is all around us. I’ll tell you more about this project in a minute, but have a look at the list we came up with here in Vermont:

We Are Thankful For…

And here are some of the things that made the list 1

  • Hot, really good coffee
  • Crisp early fall Apples

    Image: kindness dog and little girl

    Source: Dr. Lynda

  • Really, really, clean porta-potties
  • Fresh produce stands in the summer run by local families
  • 99-cent patterns at JoAnn Fabrics
  • Warm, soft, no pill fleece blankets
  • The unconditional love of a good ol’ dog
  • The smell of a wood stove
  • Coming home to a funny husband after a hard day at work
  • Seeing awesome sunrises and sunsets
  • Homegrown tomatoes
  • Flip flops
  • Long walks on a warm, beautiful fall day
  • Dark, dark purple, sweet smelling concord grapes… still warm, right off the vine
  • A family that will do laundry and fix meals when you’re sick
  • Lemony things
  • Childhood friends

    Image: best friends

    Source: Dr. Lynda

  • Flannel sheets
  • The smell of the first cut grass in the spring
  • Playing with kids and piles of leaves
  • Family close by
  • Pumpkins with deep grooves and dark green stems
  • Fond memories at a grandmother’s kitchen table
  • A really, really cold beer after a long, hard project is completed
  • The smell and taste of fresh baked bread
  • Election season is over!
  • The smell of Downy on clean sheets when you crawl into bed
  • Homemade gingersnap cookies, still warm, with melted frosting
  • Elastic waist bands
  • Kids that will happily try any kind of new food
  • Fun people
  • The smell of steaks on the grill

    Image: Homemade Chocolate chip cookies

    Source: Dr. Lynda

  • Sledding at the age of 50, on a hill so high and so long that you can barely walk back up
  • The juice of a fresh watermelon dripping down your face on a hot summer day
  • Having too much bacon to eat with your breakfast
  • Homemade chocolate chip cookies, still hot out of the oven
  • Hot water on demand from a shower with great water pressure
  • Pulling on your favorite, thick socks
  • Finding a crumpled $20 bill in a rarely worn coat pocket
  • Hearing a song from your best, carefree teen years
  • Unexpectedly discovering the smell of your mother’s perfume on a scarf

I suggest you try this during the next ten days in your work place, leading up to Thanksgiving or the end of the year celebrations.

Remember, it’s got to be super easy to contribute. We even taped a pencil on a string near the paper, and got the ball rolling by talking about it every day in our morning huddle. No one had to identify themselves for what they wrote, but they had the opportunity to discuss things if they chose. The process was low-key and fun.

This year we plan to advance the project by leaving a white board in the waiting room for our patients. We’ll point it out when they arrive, and remind them to contribute before they leave. And then we will publish the results on Facebook. Should be a load of fun and insight!

Do you have some defining thankful moments?

I’ve been thinking about this “being thankful” issue since last summer, when a Buddhist nun in Tibet handed me the best bowl of soup I’ve ever eaten. As we all stood slurping the thick, hot noodles and broth, a rainbow appeared over an ancient monastery across the valley, and while the sun warmed all our faces, there seemed to be no distance between us.

Image: Dr. Lynda with Tibetan nuns, thankful for soup.

Dr. Lynda and her friends, Buddhist nuns, in a remote corner of Tibet.
Source: Dr. Lynda

The language barrier fell away, and we were all on exactly the same page in that moment… as people who love and lose, celebrate and despair, worry and rejoice. Life can be hard, and it can be beautiful if we focus on what we share. We were all exactly the same, with every shining smile we shared.

What would a world look like if that’s what we focused on the most at work or in our families?

Image: thankful for the rainbow that appeared in Tibet

As we slurped warm noodles together, a rainbow graced the moment.
Source: Dr. Lynda

What if we all started conversations about our differences, by sharing what we can all be thankful for?

This project is a way to bring people together a little at work. Think about the new connections we might make with co-workers, or the common ground we might have with people we don’t appreciate at work.

Send us a photo of your list and a group photo of your team sometime in the next 6 weeks and we will create a special article (or articles if need be) around the holidays, with your lists and team photos!

Are you just discovering Ever Widening Circles?

We are a community of people around the globe (in 190 countries) who are trying to change the negative dialogue about our world. Our ad-free project is simply a way to combine our collective knowledge about the wonder that exists and is being ignored by the 24-hour news cycle. After publishing more than 700 articles, we can assure you this is still an amazing world.

Despite what the negative news cycle tells us, you can start a new little journey into the positive aspects of our world by just scrolling down our homepage. You can share links here with us, even write for us! Help to change the dialogue, or just visit once a day to get a spring in your step.

If you are smart, curious and still hopeful, you will find an oasis here on the web. Thanks for stopping by and remember to send us the results of your Thankfulness Project at work. We’ll publish it.

Contact us! We are real people on the other end here and we will get right back to you!

12 minutes

Gratitude and Wonder with Louie Schwartzberg

Photographer Louie Schwartzberg brings us all to a place of breath-taking beauty, wonder and hope with his TED Talk, remarkable images and the words of wise ones, young and old. This TED Talk leaves us with a sigh and a smile every time we revisit it.

Read More

“Breathtaking!” That’s all I’ll say.

Stay open, curious and hopeful.

~ Dr. Lynda

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  1. Staff, We Are Thankful For.”, November 2008.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world. Hear her latest conversations with thought leaders on the Conspiracy of Goodness Podcast--new episodes every Wednesday!