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Designing for Gratitude: An Experiment for Thanksgiving 2020
November 25, 2020 |

Close your eyes and picture Thanksgiving...

You probably see a big table, adorned with leafy decor and platters of food that just barely fit. There are three generations of smiling faces, and holiday sweaters, and the familiar tired-but-energized feeling that comes when it is finally time to sit down and share the meal.

I know that you can access this image, even if it’s not your actual experience. That is because the Thanksgiving traditions brand is strong. It’s the Nike swoosh of holidays, and you just don’t mess with a classic.

The next thing I am supposed to say is something about 2020 and dumpster fires and how sad it is that we don’t get Thanksgiving as we know it.

But that’s not what I see through my designer lens. I see a once in a lifetime opportunity to experiment and unearth new ways that Thanksgiving can help us all to experience its key tenant: gratitude.

Gratitude Banner Image

If we consider unlocking gratitude as a design problem, Thanksgiving is a very peculiar solution. Surrounding people with abundance, love, and community in an effort to cultivate their gratitude is a little like removing all the calories from cake to teach someone about the benefits of a healthy diet. It’s just too easy.

Thanksgiving 2020 took the training wheels off of practicing gratitude. It’s time for our big kid bikes.

So let’s look at the components of this 2020 Thanksgiving and redesign its strategies to cultivate gratitude.

  1. Construct an environment with room to breathe and reflect - Provide and require quiet time with a fraction of the normal activities to fill it.


  2. Create a common purpose - Ask participants to adapt their traditions to this new environment as an act of communal altruism and generosity. This is fueled by component 3...


  3. Offer tools for alternative connection - Provide free and abundant means of digital connection to allow participants to find new and interesting ways in which Tech Unites Us.
  4. Level the mechanisms of happiness - Create balance by limiting the extent to which participants’ social networks, income, and access amplify their holiday experience. 


  5. Encourage creativity and innovation - Upend every rule, create comically difficult scenarios, and let participants’ imaginations flourish in designing a new experience under new constraints.


Cultivating enduring gratitude is a worthy pursuit. Myriad psychological and spiritual traditions teach us that to truly orient in gratitude is to find deep fulfillment, generosity, and peace.

This year, like every year, there is a lot to be thankful for. And this year we have the opportunity to renew our gratitude — fortified by resilience, optimism, and altruism. While I don’t think any of us would like to see the 2020 Thanksgiving redesign encore, if we take on its challenges with open hearts, we might just learn to find true gratitude through (and for) this quirky pop-up experience.

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Tech Unites Us

Caitlin is obsessed with fueling intimate connections between humans and brands. She works with our clients to build and shape brands that nurture the humanity in every interaction. In her in-house role, she strengthens the connection that both clients and employees feel with the Phase2 brand through digital and physical experiences. Caitlin is also one of the co-founders of Phase2’s BuilDesign internship program.

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