With Thanksgiving coming up next week, I’ve felt more stressed than usual with all of the job and personal responsibilities I need to address before flying across the country to see my family – in a small town with hardly any cell reception, in a house that doesn’t have wifi! The “disconnection anxiety” has set in, and I’ve been trying my hardest not to worry about the emails, calls, texts, and social network updates I’ll miss.
But the other day I remembered a few things: that I’ll be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with my wonderful 85-year-old grandparents, among other family members I don’t see often; that sunny California will be a nice break from chilly New England; and that I will get to play with my uncle’s adorable new puppy. It hit me that in all the stress of the past few months, I’ve fallen out of the practice of gratitude. But right now feels like the just the right time to renew my commitment to gratitude — after all, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is (supposed to be) all about?
The Benefits of Gratitude
It seems unfortunate, but it’s natural to focus more on what’s going wrong than what’s going right. If someone were to ask if you’re grateful for what you have, you would probably say, “Yes, of course I am.”
But being grateful for even the small things, and actively giving thanks, is entirely another story. That’s why most of us have to practice gratitude, if we want to reap its benefits.
The scientific community has begun to take gratitude seriously, and a growing body of research shows its benefits:
- Helps lower anxiety levels and reduces panic
- Strengthens the immune system and lowers blood pressure
- Puts our problems in perspective
- Enables us to think more creatively
- Increases compassion and feelings of connectedness to others
- Increases optimism and overall happiness
When it comes to being grateful for what you have, it really is all about the little things. The reality is that everyone experiences major problems in their lives. Grateful people are no exception – it’s just that instead of waiting for the big things to be perfect, they know it’s the small stuff that brings true joy.
Start Feeling Grateful Today
- Check your sense of entitlement. Beyond basic human rights, no one is entitled to anything in life. If you tend to think life has been unfair to you, ask yourself why. It’s perfectly fine to wish things were different, especially if it’s something you can work to change. It’s another thing to believe that life hasn’t given you what you’re due, and to constantly dwell on that negativity. This mentality prevents you from noticing what’s good in your life.
- Know your strengths. Try to look at yourself realistically, not just critically. For example, if you botch a presentation at work, don’t beat yourself up for the next several days over how bad you are at public speaking. Remind yourself of all the skills you do bring to your job. (You were hired for a reason, remember?)
- Keep things in perspective. I’m not a big fan of dismissing one person’s struggle because someone somewhere has it worse. Still, there is a lot to be said for perspective. If you’re reading this right now on your laptop or smartphone, you have quite a lot to be grateful for! Internet access and the ability to read are still very much luxuries in many parts of the world.
- Write it down. The most common way of cultivating gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. Writing out what you’re thankful for helps it “stick.” Choose a time of day that works for you, and write out a few things every day. Be specific. For instance, instead of saying that I’m grateful for my family, I could say that I’m grateful that my 85-year-old grandparents are healthy and that I’m able to travel to see them over Thanksgiving.
- Pay attention. Once you start your gratitude practice, you’ll start to notice more and more to be grateful for. Stay present in the moment, notice your surroundings, and count your blessings.