Besides sharing time with family and friends over food, the primary ingredient of the American Thanksgiving holiday is gratitude. While it’s certainly good to have an annual holiday to remind us to express gratitude, there’s much to be said for the benefits of cultivating the spirit of thankfulness year-round.
People who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions, and are better able to reach their goals. Scientists have even noted that gratitude is associated with improved health.
“The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.
With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves.
As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or God. People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude).
Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.”
One way to harness the positive power of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal or list, where you actively write down exactly what you’re grateful for each day. In one study, people who kept a gratitude journal reported exercising more, and they had fewer visits to the doctor compared to those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
Cultivating a sense of gratitude will help you refocus your attention toward what’s good and right in your life rather than dwelling on the negatives and all the things you may feel are lacking.
And, like a muscle, this mental state can be strengthened with practice. Besides keeping a daily gratitude journal, other ways to cultivate a sense of gratitude include:
• Write thank you notes: Whether in response to a gift or kind act, or simply as a show of gratitude for someone being in your life, getting into the habit of writing thank you letters can help you express gratitude in addition to simply feeling it inside.
• Count your blessings: Once a week, reflect on events for which you are grateful and write them down. As you do, feel the sensations of happiness and thankfulness you felt at the time it happened, going over it again in your mind.
• Pray: Expressing thanks to God during your prayers is an important way to cultivate gratitude. Oftentimes we find ourselves asking God to meet our needs and wants, but forget to thank Him for all He provides for us every day. From our family, to our jobs, to our health, and to the beautiful sun, moon, and stars. Sometimes it’s the little things we tend to take for granted.
Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude as Part of a Healthy Lifestyle
Starting each day by thinking of all the things you have to be thankful for is one way to put your mind on the right track. Also, remember that your future depends largely on the thoughts you think today. So each moment of every day is an opportunity to turn your thinking around, thereby helping or hindering your ability to think and feel more positively in the very next moment.
Most experts agree that there are no shortcuts to happiness. Even generally happy people do not experience joy 24 hours a day. But a happy person can have a bad day and still find pleasure in the small things in life.
Be thankful for what you have. When life gives you a 100 reasons to cry, remember the 1,000 reasons you have to smile. Face your past without regret, prepare for the future without fear, focus on what’s good right now, in the present moment, and practice gratitude. Remember to say “thank you”—to yourself, God, and others. It’s wonderful to see a person smile, and even more wonderful knowing that you are the reason behind it! And with that, I wish you all a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!