How To Make Time For Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Warner Bros. Television

Turkey dinners, cranberries, candied yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and family dinners.

Family (and those relatives we wish weren't family) swapping stories and bonding over football.

Complicated seating arrangements as we debate which uncle should not be sitting next to which cousin.

These are all the makings of Thanksgiving.

There are certain traditions we associate with the all-American day of endless roasts and gelatinous, orange desserts. Just like the many pumpkin pie recipes you'll find on the internet, Thanksgiving traditions can get complicated when family's involved.

That's why my favorite tradition is a very basic idea: gratitude. Gratitude is something we can all relate to. And it's something we all need more of in our lives.

My family shows gratitude with a list.

It started as our way of counting blessings instead of problems – once a year, we're not allowed to complain. It's tough, but a bit simpler when our mouths our too busy drooling over a hot, steaming plate of mashed potatoes.

They say we are what we eat. But really, we are what we think.

So along with the pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving is a time to center ourselves in the spirit of gratitude. It's a time to keep track of what we already have and appreciate it.

What better way to keep track of things than with a list? Lists can also put us in touch with another important tradition on Thanksgiving: connection.

I started making lists years ago, in the loneliest of places – the hospital. I began making all kinds of lists after a surgery that went terribly wrong. Eventually, I found myself making a list of gratitude.

I realized there, for the first time, that through making a simple list I could feel more connected to the world around me.

The beauty of a near-death experience is that you realize what matters most in life.

But you don't need to have a life-altering medical situation to realize this.

All it takes is the beauty of being surrounded by family, friends and turkey to remind us that every day is an opportunity to remember things we're grateful for.

When I got out of the hospital months later, I made a gratitude list from A to Z every day. Even on the hardest days, I found that by the time I got to Z there were a few things to smile about.

Soon, my alphabetical list turned from “Almost walked. Better heart rate. Coughed less.” to “Awesome walk outside. Best afternoon ever. Cheerful spirits today.”

It was amazing to see each day slowly improve, and to feel myself gradually claiming ownership of my world again.

Finding gratitude was a way to make sense of my story.  If I was grateful for the other things happening, then my story could fit into my life.

I could own what happened to me and make something from it. These lists ended up being my life stories.

This taught me a valuable lesson: Stories make us stronger.

Stories make us think differently. And there is strength in thinking, seeing and doing things differently.

With these daily lists, I was able to find 24 powerful reasons not to give up hope. When all else felt lost, I had 24 bulleted thoughts to hold me through until the next day's list.

You don't need a picture-perfect life to find everyday gratitude.

All you need to do is start writing down things that make you happy to be alive.

You can write these on the gum wrapper in your coat pocket, or on the coffee cup you bought for breakfast. You just need to write them down and get your head in a different place -- a grateful place.

Sometimes, when your head's in a different place your life will be too.

For me, being grateful for the blessings and the curses brought upon us is the real meaning of Thanksgiving.

There's gratitude to be found everywhere, and if there's one tradition I'm going to pass onto my children, it's the ritual of counting our blessings around the table, once every year.

In a complicated world, I keep it simple. I start with a list.