Thanksgiving is traditionally a celebration of the harvest and an opportunity to eat well and be grateful for the good things in life. It’s also an occasion that can come with stress around the sometimes complicated relationships that exist in any family.
But that core impulse of gratitude is a good one, however you celebrate this holiday. Studies have shown that cultivating an attitude of gratitude for what we have, however modest, increases our well-being, strengthens our relationships, helps us be more patient and improves the quality of life for the community around us. Being grateful has even been shown to improve our sleep, which is good for both our physical and mental health.
Here are a few ways to be thankful at Thanksgiving – and the other 364 days of the year.
Start a Gratitude Journal
It could be five things, or maybe only three, but keep a journal of the things for which you’re thankful. This isn’t a practice tied to a particular religion or dogma: anyone can do it. It is what people of faith call “counting your blessings.” Consider different things, but be specific. Provide some detail. And commit a little time to it, whether every other day or once a week. Studies with children have shown it to improve their optimism and life satisfaction. There’s even an app for that.
Start a Mindfulness Practice
A practice like keeping a gratitude journal is a very mindful thing to do, but you can take it further. You can start a mindfulness meditation practice, and through that practice embrace gratitude. Mindfulness has also been shown to reduce stress and increase compassion.
There are different ways of practicing mindfulness. Exercising our ability to pay attention is one way. This is the opposite of multi-tasking – focusing on a single thing to the exclusion of everything else.
If you do this while sitting silently for a few minutes, just focusing on your breath, then that is mindful meditation. When your mind wanders, which it will, gently bring it back to your breath. That non-judgmental practice is what meditation is all about. Its origin is from a Buddhist tradition, but is now practised secularly by millions of people.
Once you have a practice, it’s simple to add an element of gratitude to it. At Thanksgiving, perhaps meditate on how thankful you are for food, family, friends and shelter. The rest of the year, feel free to consider other subjects.
Savour the World
Being grateful for things in your life is basically having compassion for yourself, and there are lots of ways to do that. Share your gratitude with the people who love you, making sure they know how you feel. Consider writing a “gratitude letter” to someone you may not have properly thanked for good deeds in the past. Focus on intentions, and appreciate when someone goes out of their way for your benefit. Recognize the positive in your own life. And, above all, enjoy it, starting with the meal and the closeness that Thanksgiving brings.
And for more on the science of gratitude, try this podcast.
Your turn: Share how you make gratitude your attitude in the comment section below.