As we move into the Thanksgiving holiday and celebrate #givingTuesday, it’s a perfect time to reflect on thankfulness. The attitude of gratitude is enriching and has been shown to have many benefits. I use this approach often as I teach a variety of wellness classes. Although I practice what I teach, I’m only human and need a personal reminder myself…depending on the day.
Our natural human tendency is to notice the negative first and overlook the positive. Here’s an example. Over a decade ago, I presented a wellness seminar and felt it went well. Then, I read through more than thirty evaluations with kind words and comments. Then, I saw it! One negative comment about the visual presentation which was a bit harsh. I had to remind myself that our brain is wired to focus on the negative and it was just a comment that shouldn’t dissolve all the positive reviews.
This reaction is a primal instinct and used to protect us against threats such as eating a poisonous mushroom or journeying down a path that led to a den of dangerous animals. Although humans have evolved, our instincts haven’t. We don’t have to live in the negativity and it all begins with awareness and gratitude. The first step is to catch ourselves slipping into this negative frame of mind and shift our mindset to the positive. Being grateful promotes positive focus and creates a feeling of joy. This attitude of gratitude has been shown to help us be present, improve happiness, life satisfaction and feelings of contentment.
Here are 8 grateful (#gr8ful) tips that you can weave into your life and a couple include Thanksgiving.
1. Make a gratitude tree. You can choose a small limb (~2 feet in length) with multiple branches (found in the yard) and bring it indoors. Place it in a pot or vase and make sure the base is secure. Everyone who comes to Thanksgiving dinner should take a label (any size will do) and pen and write down what they are grateful for. You can also cut strips of colorful papers and use clothespins to secure to the branches if you don’t want to attach labels to branches and want a more festive tree. You can also attach to a bouquet of flowers to bring in more color and this arrangement can be your centerpiece at the table. This sets the tone to giving thanks and you can keep the tree or flowers there for as long as you like. At the Thanksgiving table, have everyone at the table say what they wrote and are grateful for.
2. Gratitude bowl. If you don’t have a yard or access to a branch, tree or flowers, you can simply have a gratitude bowl on the Thanksgiving table. Have people write down what they’re grateful for on colorful slips of paper. Before you begin eating, have each person read their item and then place in the bowl.
3. Keep a gratitude journal. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for each night before you go to sleep. This allows your mind to end on a positive note.
4. Gratitude notes. Weekly, write a note to a family member or friend and leave it in a place where it will be a surprise when they find it.
5. Write a note to yourself. We often are the first to beat ourselves up with negative self-talk. Write a letter and tell yourself all the good qualities you have and what accomplishments or characteristics you’re proud of. This is great to read when your day hasn’t been the best. It helps put things into perspective.
6. Practice a gratitude meditation. Anyone can do this practice and you don’t have to be an expert meditator. Find a spot where you are alone or not. Your choice. Simply sit in a comfortable position (and this can be sitting on the couch or chair). You can also lie down, but don’t go to sleep. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale simply close your eyes. Notice your breathing for several breaths – pace, depth, sensations. Then, begin to think of what you’re grateful for. This is your practice. It can be your health, health of your family, your job, your breath. Say to yourself (internal or out loud) – “I am grateful for…” You simply fill in the sentence. Begin each sentence with these four words. Sit as long as you like and do this daily or at least weekly.
7. Gratitude jar. Get a mason jar with a lid and cut slips of colorful paper. On each piece of paper, write down what you’re grateful for and have family members do the same. You can even use your gratitude journal to create the contents of your jar. Have your jar in plain sight. This can promote family meals at the table. Before sitting down, family members grab a piece of paper and a pen and write down what they are grateful for. They can share or not. Hopefully your jar fills quickly, and you’ll need another and another throughout the year.
8. Incorporate intentional gratitude into your life. Notice the things around you daily and consider the little things. Gratitude doesn’t have to be the obvious. Maybe it’s a rainy day that’s supplies water to the Earth (when everyone else sees it as negative and messy). Perhaps it’s driving to work in the early morning when it’s dark and everyone else is sleeping. You’re grateful that you’re missing the morning rush hour(s) traffic versus going to work in the dark. Maybe you are grateful to simply have no restrictions to walking on a treadmill or walking across the parking lot or taking the stairs. We all have something to be grateful for.
Enjoy this holiday season and don’t just save gratefulness for the months of November and December. Invite this attitude of gratitude into everyday of the year. By doing so, you will reap the benefits and so will those around you. #gr8ful #saslife
Resources to Enrich Happiness and Gratitude