Gostick and Elton: Thanksgiving in COVID lockdown – how to still serve up gratitude on Zoom and more

How to throw a virtual Thanksgiving celebration

Lifestyle expert Carey Reilly provides tips to make your virtual gathering successful.

If you follow the CDC guidance on COVID-19, most likely there will be fewer people at your Thanksgiving dinner passing around the cranberry relish and green bean casserole; but that does not mean the holiday has to be devoid of gratitude.

A recent study conducted at Indiana University found that few things are as effective as gratitude at unshackling people from toxic emotions (which we built up in abundance in 2020).

Gratitude also provides lasting, lifting effects on the brain—which can help bring you and your family members a more positive attitude that can last the entire holiday season.


Here are four simple ways to bring more gratitude to a locked-down Thanksgiving:

1. Focus on What Unites

No matter who’s at your table, a good pivot from the election divisiveness is to ask everyone to express gratitude for what unites us as a family — and not focus on what divides us.

A tried-and-tested pre-dinner tradition in our families is to ask each person at the table to express what they are truly grateful for this year. It might be their spouse/partner/kids; appreciation of good food; their health; the love we all share; or our acceptance of each other.


Another twist on this tradition is to let everyone take a turn expressing who they are grateful for at the table, but they must choose someone who hasn't been thanked yet. They need to explain why that person is deserving of gratitude.

This is what Thanksgiving is all about, after all; not only reflecting on blessings but expressing sincere gratitude to each other.

2. Connect with a Click

Let’s face it, many of us are just about Zoomed out, and another technological chat on Thanksgiving Day sounds about as much fun as sand in your swimsuit; yet that doesn’t mean far-away Aunt Gertie or Grandpa Stu wouldn’t love seeing your smiling face(s) on what might be a lonely day for them.

You might do appetizers with one part of your family via Facetime, Zoom, or other video chat, then do the entrée with another group and dessert with yet others.

These chats can be a terrific chance to reconnect, laugh together, and share your thanks for all they do for you and the love you share. And some good news, Zoom announced it will lift its 40-minute limit on free calls on Thanksgiving Day.

3.Create Personalized Videos

Some families we’ve spoken with say they will start a new tradition this Thanksgiving by filming videos with personalized expressions of gratitude to each individual they love who is not at the table—letting these friends and family members know how and why they’re appreciated. They’ll upload these funny and heartfelt videos to YouTube, Instagram or another video sharing service, and let their loved ones know how to find them.

4.Flood Social Media with Gratitude

In this time of so much expressed hate, unrest, racism, dishonesty, and lack of civility online, some folks have told us their goal this Thanksgiving is to turn their social media feeds into hopeful and happy places. They plan to unleash a wave of gratitude and are pledging to give thanks for the tender mercies that bring flavor to their lives.

The great Western disease is “I’ll be happy when” — when I make enough money, meet the right person, figure out my future, fix that car, get through this COVID-19 pandemic, etc. But our research shows gratitude to be vital for our happiness in the here and now. 


The wisest people we’ve met practice deep gratitude and they express it freely.

Want to be happy now? Then use this Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on your blessings and express gratitude to those you love.

Chester Elton is co-author with Adrian Gostick of  "Leading with Gratitude," “The Carrot Principle” and “All In.”

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