“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”—Alphonse Karr
Thanksgiving feels very strange for most of us this year. Many of us are not able to spend time with the ones we love on a holiday that’s all about gathering together, and it’s easy to feel ungrateful during this time. Like many other states, New Mexico has entered another two week lockdown and people all around me are getting sick, forcing our family to spend the holiday in separate houses with ordered meals because it’s just not worth cooking a feast for a few. It sucks, to say the least.
However, through all of the change, sickness and loss, one thing I’ve noticed is that this experience really heightens my love and gratitude for the people I have in my life and the many gifts the world offers on any given day. One day it might be how grateful I am that the Range Café across the street is offering a fantastic thanksgiving meal for two, or how much I cherish my loved ones… or even something as mundane as how grateful I am that the dishes in the dishwasher are clean at that present moment in time. If this year has taught me anything, it has showed me how to really tune into gratitude and use it as a tool in my mental health tool box.
Tuning into Gratitude
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”—Robert Brault
Gratitude is a powerful emotion we feel when we appreciate and give thanks for what we have. More than a fleeting emotion, however, gratitude has a greater depth to it. It can be a mood, or a daily habit or practice that has amazing side effects.
It’s Good for You
Research has linked gratitude with a wide range of benefits, including strengthening your immune system, helping the heart, improving sleep patterns, feeling optimistic and experiencing more joy and pleasure, being more helpful and generous, feeling less lonely and isolated, and feeling less stressed.
Additionally, a new study conducted at Indiana University shows that it can boost your mental health. This study found that those who write letters of gratitude reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.
It’s Good for Others
There’s scientific evidence that gratitude strengthens relationships. By feeling and expressing gratitude, it makes us feel closer and more committed to friends and romantic partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship.
You can tap into gratitude at any time, anywhere; all it takes is a little awareness. Also, not only is gratitude a sustainable individual practice, it can ripple outward into something much bigger than ourselves, promoting kindness and peace across communities. Maybe the next time you tell someone working at the grocery store you appreciate them, they’ll do the same for someone else.
Gratitude Exercise: Notice the Goodness in your life
“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.”—Dalai Lama
As wonderful of a feeling as it is, learning to cultivate gratitude can take some conscious practice especially during seemingly difficult and uncertain times. Considering the many benefits, however, it is worth becoming better at it!
This Thanksgiving week, you can practice gratitude by writing or typing up a list of things you are grateful for. Set aside some time a couple days this week and add a few things to your list. These statements can be anything from “I am grateful for delivery pizza” to “I am grateful for the loved ones I have in my life.”
Here are some tips to help you write your list:
- Don’t overthink it-Appreciate everything.
- Think about people that are meaningful to you or have inspired you.
- Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
- Think about ALL areas of your life, not just physical possessions. What about health, career, faith & spirituality? You can also refer back to your wheel for this one.
- Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
- Practice being in the present moment. Where are you right now and what in this moment of awareness can you be grateful for?
- Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
- Come to Your Senses. Through our senses—the ability to touch, see, smell, taste, and hear—we gain an appreciation of what it means to be human and of what an incredible miracle it is to be alive. Seen through the lens of gratitude, the human body is not only a miraculous construction, but also a gift.
- Use Visual Reminders. Because the two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude. Often times, the best visual reminders are other people.
- Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling.
“Be aware of your feelings and how you “relish” and “savor” this gift in your imagination. Take the time to be especially aware of the depth of your gratitude.”—Robert Emmons
How can you “relish” and “savor” the many gifts in your life this Thanksgiving? This week, it might literally be cranberry relish that you’re grateful for and that’s wonderful. Tune into it.