It’s the start of November and a marvelous time of year to reimagine our gratitude practices. We celebrate our national Thanksgiving Holiday this month, acknowledging its historical roots in the 1620s when members of the Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag tribe gathered together to celebrate the harvest that would see them through the coming winter – their abundance.
The holiday was first proclaimed by President Lincoln in 1863 and adjusted by congress in 1941 to sit on the fourth Thursday of November, a day when we remember our abundance and give thanks. For some, I suspect that the holiday may have lost its meaning. It has become just another 4-day weekend, intended for seeking out bargains on one exhaustive shopping extravaganza.
Shopping seems the more important American tradition these days, rather than the act of reflecting on the past year and being grateful for our survival and prospects for living through the upcoming winter. For those who’ve had a difficult year – still coping with long-COVID, or squeezed by the economics of inflation, or worried about a child contracting RSV, or watching retirement accounts dwindle as the stock market reacts to political whims – it may be hard to feel grateful.
But gratitude isn’t something we engage in because we’re “supposed to” – it is a practice we cultivate because it serves us, it changes our attitude, relieves our anxiety and reminds us that life is fragile and worth honoring with awe and wonder.
An article from Psychology Today (reference below) reminds us that gratitude matters, adopting a gratitude practice can do several things in our lives, including:
- Gratitude can get us out of self-pity or moments of feeling sorry for ourselves – it reminds us to give thanks, because even in the middle of disappointment, there is always something we can be grateful for!
- Gratitude (the simple act of saying Thank You) or showing appreciation, can open the doors to new, or enriched relationships with others.
- Gratitude improves physical health – grateful people report feeling healthier than other people and experiencing less aches and pain than people who do not practice gratitude.
- Gratitude improves psychological health – it reduces a host of toxic feelings like envy, resentment, frustration, and regret. Researchers link gratitude to wellbeing.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression – grateful people are more likely to behave in a kind manner toward others and generate less upset even when given negative feedback.
- Grateful people sleep better – a 2011 study demonstrated that just 15 minutes spent journaling about gratitude brought better and longer sleep that night.
- Gratitude improves self-esteem – a 2014 study found athletes’ self-esteem increased (as did their performance) when they engaged in acts of gratitude.
- Gratitude increases mental strength – not only reducing stress, but helping people recover from trauma, a 2006 study of veterans indicated lower rates of PTSD among those who practiced gratitude.
I won’t presume to know what your gratitude practice looks like, but I’ll invite you to glimpse into mine. Each morning, after my meditation, I name three persons or circumstances I’m genuinely grateful for – I do this silently, to myself (some people write them down, in a gratitude journal). Again, at night, when my head hits the pillow, I recall the day and look for another three persons or circumstances for which I can be grateful.
This simple practice changes my frame of reference. It gives me perspective on my day and allows me to both launch and leave my day with an appreciative heart, a realization of my own abundance, and a spirit of gratitude.
I invite you to develop a gratitude practice of your own – a way in which YOU can reap the benefits that gratitude can add to your life. As always, let me know if I can help!
REFERENCE: Morin, A. (2015). 7 Scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. Psychology Today.