by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.
The Thanksgiving holiday was originally established to celebrate of the blessing of the harvest. But, in modern America, Thanksgiving day has become more of a social event for families, focused on fun, food, football, and the anticipation of Black Friday sales. Thinking and talking about the blessings in our lives is no longer an important part of the Thanksgiving holiday or of our daily lives. And, something significant has been lost.
Gratitude is about more than simply saying thank you. Studies have found that being grateful has many benefits. For starters, it helps us to recognize and appreciate what we have, freeing us from the preoccupation with what we don’t have. Gratitude is about truly appreciating what’s good in your life, including those things that you usually take for granted. It turns out that regularly focusing on feelings of gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to increase happiness and well-being. Many studies have shown that gratitude increases life satisfaction, enhances emotional and physical resilience, strengthens relationships, helps to puts life and challenges into perspective, reduces depression and stress, and helps us to move forward when we feel stuck.
So, this Thanksgiving, be sure to take some time to think about the blessings in your life, and if appropriate, use the opportunity of the Thanksgiving holiday to let those you love know that you consider them to be among those blessings. And, for those who dread Thanksgiving due to family tensions, or painful memories that are triggered, gratitude can be a helpful way to manage the emotional challenges experienced at the holidays. Rather than just focusing on the distressing aspects of the family gathering, or distressing memories, try to think about what you appreciate either in your family or in other areas of your life. And, don’t reserve the gratitude mindset just for Thanksgiving. If you make gratitude a permanent part of your life, you will experience its power as you reap the many benefits it brings. Below are two activities that can help you to make gratitude a regular part of your life.
1) GRATITUDE JOURNAL
A simple but very powerful exercise is the gratitude journal. At the end of the day, write down three things that happened that day for which you feel grateful. The things you list don’t have to be big; they can either be small things you experienced during the day that you appreciate, or they can be bigger things in your life. Do this for at least a week, and if you begin to see benefits, continue to do it on a regular basis. You don’t necessarily have to continue to do this daily. This activity can equally effective if done on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis, so do whatever fits best for you.
Instead of making a list of items, you can also try writing more extensively about a particular thing/experience/relationship for which you are grateful.
2) GRATITUDE LETTER
The gratitude letter is another powerful exercise that can help increase gratitude. This exercise involves writing a letter to someone who has had a significant positive impact on your life, but whom you have not formally thanked. It can be a mentor, grandparent, or anyone who has helped you in a meaningful way in your life. In your letter, describe what that individual did specifically that was helpful, and the impact it had on you. The length of the letter is unimportant, and it’s not absolutely necessary to send it in order for you to reap the benefits of doing this exercise. Assuming that you are willing to have your letter read by the individual about whom it is written, a really powerful addition to this exercise is to personally deliver the letter and read it to that person.