Former Extension Educator, Family Life
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Friday, November 13, 2015
Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday. Something about the food, spending time with family, and truly examining what I am thankful for appeals to me. As soon as the calendar hits November 1, if your Facebook feed is anything like mine, the 30 days of thankfulness posts begin – serving as multiple daily reminders of things, people, places, and experiences we are grateful for. For 30 straight days, I'm encouraged and uplifted by these thoughtful, sincere, and sometimes humorous posts, but as soon as December 1 hits – BAM – no more gratitude. It's like thankfulness disappears with the last of the leftover turkey.
Cultivating an "attitude of gratitude" is widely thought to be one of the easiest ways of improving overall life satisfaction. Dr. Robert Emmons, a University of California Davis professor and a renowned expert on gratitude, found multiple benefits of practicing gratitude in his research. Most profoundly, his studies have confirmed a solid link between gratitude and increased happiness and decreased depression. Through a research project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, Dr. Emmons and his colleagues found that individuals who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more and felt better about their lives; those who kept gratitude lists made more progress toward their goals than those who did not; and individuals who practiced a daily gratitude technique had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and energy. Other research findings indicate that gratitude improves emotional and physical health, strengthens relationships and communities, and even helps us sleep better.
With all these great things cultivating gratitude provides, what's not to like about it? Maybe that we don't practice it enough. According to Dr. Emmons, cultivating gratitude is a "chosen attitude" requiring the giver to "overcome a sense of entitlement and deserved-ness." Ouch!
While we cannot dispute the benefits having gratitude provides us, it can be difficult to feel thankful when we're going through a difficult time. Difficulties in relationships, financial problems, health issues, and on can direct our attention from what we do have to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude – in good and bad times – can become a habit that carries us through when the going gets tough. The simple beauty of practicing daily gratitude is that we all can do it by merely focusing on all that we have.
Here are some practical ways to start practicing gratitude:
- "The Three Good Things." Commonly known as the foundation of any gratitude journal, the three good things exercise requires you to think of, list, or name three things that went well each day. This practice can be written down in a journal or shared out loud at a family meal. It's a great way to focus energy and attention on the positive. Another option is to list the three things you are grateful for that day. Research has shown that individuals practice this technique report more happiness and less depression over time.
- Focus on what is right. Notice the little things in life. Focus on one area or object at a time. Be observant and pick out the good in every situation. While you can acknowledge the emotion you are feeling in any given situation (anger, frustration, sadness), take a moment to think of a bright side or silver lining.
- Partner up. Accountability helps us to keep our goals in check – even when it comes to being more grateful. Ask a friend or loved one to remember to be grateful with you. Serving as support to each other, your gratitude partner will help you (and you will help him/her) reinforce the habit.
- Make a gratitude visit. A study published in 2005 found that making a "gratitude visit" increased happiness for participants. To make a gratitude visit, first reflect upon a person in your life who has made an impact or been especially kind to you, yet who you have not adequately thanked. Once you have identified this person, think about how this person helped you and write the person a letter, openly expressing your thankfulness for their impact on your life. The final step? After you deliver the letter personally, spend time with him or her and share what you wrote and why.
- Use holidays as a milestone. Holidays and family gatherings are a prime opportunity to reflect on blessings and shared thankfulness. Families may consider partaking in an activity like a Family Thankfulness Jar to focus on gratitude. If a formal activity isn't appealing, direct conversation toward reflecting on blessings. Expressing gratitude as a family or group, increases the chances that the spirit of gratitude will be passed on.
In her book, "The How of Happiness", Sonja Lyubomirsky writes, "Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present oriented."
With all that gratitude has to offer us, our relationships, and our communities, let's make a commitment to practice 365 Days of Thankfulness.
Leave a comment: How do you practice gratefulness?