It's the season of gratitude: a time to acknowledge what we are thankful for with the people in our lives who matter most. Whether you find it's more effective to reflect on gratitude in the quiet of your room, out in nature, or around the table with your family at Thanksgiving dinner, it's something we should all take the time to do, even during the times when we are experiencing overwhelming loss, health issues, strained relationships, or whatever other hardships which make it feel impossible to be thankful. Remembering to have gratitude for what you do have in your life kindles inner peace and contentment, feelings which are crucial to making it through the hard times, and enjoying the good ones to the fullest.
In general, being thankful is scientifically proven to benefit your mental and physical well-being. People who are grateful sleep longer and more soundly, have lower resentment and better self-esteem, and reduced levels of stress. According to Psychology Today, "a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience."
Additionally, people who actively practice thankfulness experience fewer symptoms of depression, aggression, envy due to comparison (hello fellow social media lovers, here's lookin' at you), as well as a whole slew of other negative emotions. "Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to further longevity." Basically, if you wanna be happy and healthy, be grateful. The rest will fall into place.
There are plenty of ways to increase feelings of gratitude in your everyday life. A few to reflect on are...
1. Live life in the moment, and be appreciative for the little things; in a Forbes article on cultivating thankfulness, the writer noted "nothing is too small to be grateful for." It can be something as simple as a pretty sunset seen during your evening commute. Those small things add up, and enhance mood, happiness, and quality of life.
2. Though difficult, actively try to be thankful for your challenges, and acknowledge the ways they have helped you to grow.
3. Spend time doing for others. Volunteer to help out at a homeless shelter. Instead of letting old clothes hang in your closet unworn, donate (if they're still in good condition). Take a half hour to talk to an elderly relative who might be lonely. Selfless acts promote good self esteem, which promotes happiness, which promotes gratitude. "Being grateful can make you happy, but being happy can also make you grateful."
4. Make time for your loved ones. It may be cliché, but the time we have to spend with these people is incredibly valuable. Appreciate that, and enjoy cultivating meaningful relationships and memories that you can be thankful for.
So here's my challenge to you: instead of rolling your eyes next time your great aunt suggests you play a round of Thanksgiving "name-one-thing-you're-grateful-for", really take a minute to think. Ask yourself,
1. What brings you joy?
2. What accomplishment are you most proud of in the past year?
3, What's a memory that brings you joy?
4. What's the most delicious thing you've eaten this month?
5. What's something you really admire about yourself? Think of one emotional attribute and one physical.
6. What qualities do you admire most in your loved ones?
7. What did you learn, or how did you grow from a difficult experience over the past year?
Make your own list of questions that prompt appreciation in your life, and write them down. You might be surprised at how much you can come up with, and how good you feel when you're done. Just fifteen minutes spent journaling or meditating on what you're thankful for a day can change your whole outlook on life, even if its just two minutes spent here and there throughout the day. And remember, even though November may be the official season for giving thanks, challenge yourself to keep gratitude promoting habits going all year long. With a mindset like that, it's impossible for your life not to transform for the better. Happy November, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!