Fostering Gratitude at Thanksgiving and Year-Round

Black and white painting of dishes and fruit on a table

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  Its historical origins aside, for me, it’s a day spent with family, some of whom I don’t see as often as I’d like.  When I was a kid, the hosting duties rotated among my mom and her four siblings, and a crowd of 20-30 of my aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered together for a delicious potluck-style meal, followed by hours of card games, laughter, and enjoying each others’ company.  The gatherings have become smaller over the years and the format has changed a bit, but I still look forward to this holiday more than any other.

As I’ve become older, I’ve grown to appreciate the spirit of gratitude surrounding Thanksgiving.  I’ve read about families who have adopted a tradition of going around the table and each naming one thing for which they are grateful, which is a lovely idea.  Throughout this month, a few of my friends have written daily “today, I’m grateful for” posts on social media.  I’m sure these moments of reflection have positively impacted their attitudes each day, and I’ve enjoyed the regular reminders to stop any appreciate the blessings in my own life.  Unfortunately, for many of us, the gratitude we feel around Thanksgiving can quickly give way to feelings of busy-ness and stress as we get wrapped up in the expectations of the winter holidays and the tasks and frustrations of day-to-day life.

Gratitude has been linked to overall well-being.  Its health benefits are physical as well as emotional.  Gratitude can counteract the negative effects of stress and lead to greater feelings of contentment and life satisfaction.  These benefits are too good to be limited to a single holiday or season.

How can we maintain a sense of gratitude throughout the year?  Here are a few suggestions to foster gratitude within yourself.

  1. Think of three things you’re grateful for before you go to bed each night.  You may want to write them in a gratitude journal so that you can look back on them during difficult times and remind yourself of what’s good in your life.  Or you may simply recite them in your head while you lie in bed as a way to shift to a more positive mindset and help you to fall asleep.  I think the key here is to be specific.  Rather than simply saying “I’m grateful that I have a job,” come up with a more detailed example, such as “I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to use my skills to help people today,” or “I’m thankful to have a boss who trusts me to perform important tasks.”  Instead of saying “I’m thankful for my family and friends,” think about specific qualities or actions of those people that made your day a little brighter.
  2. Say thank you.  Don’t just say it reflexively when someone hands you something or holds a door for you (though you should certainly thank people in those situations).  Look for ways in which people have helped you and thank them for their assistance.  We tend to see what we look for, so challenging yourself to notice the generosity of others will help you to recognize the good in the people around you.  Say thank you to coworkers and service people even when they are just doing their jobs.  Write a hand-written thank-you note when someone gives you a gift or goes out of her way to do something nice for you.  Taking the time to compose your thoughts into a few sentences is sure to increase your gratitude more than dashing off a quick text or email.
  3. Write a letter to a person who made a difference in your life.  It could be someone from your childhood, an old friend, a former love interest, a mentor from early in your career, or the person who gave you a chance by hiring you for your first job.  If you are able to locate the person and wish to deliver the letter, that would surely make the recipient’s day, but it’s also fine not to send the letter to anyone.  The simple act of writing the letter is likely to generate feelings of warmth, appreciation, and love.
  4. Help those in need.  Make a donation to an organization that provides aid to individuals in distress.  Volunteer your time in ways that allow you to interact with people who are facing hard times.  Give away your unused or unnecessary stuff.  Helping others not only benefits them, it also benefits you by causing you to appreciate the blessings in your own life.

In closing, I’d like to express my gratitude to all the people who read Alexigraph.  Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you each week, for supporting me in this creative endeavor that I find so meaningful, and for giving me this outlet to explore and express what I find valuable.  If you celebrate the holiday, have a very happy Thanksgiving!

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