With Thanksgiving this week, I thought it’d be appropriate to dive into thankfulness and gratitude a little more than usual. You see, there is a brain health aspect to practicing gratitude, as suggested by research, which links gratitude to personal well being. It’s also understandable that in actual practice gratitude can be hard to come by — or rather, hard to force. But perhaps knowing what little moments of thankfulness can do for you and your health will allow you to tap into that part of you, even in the toughest of times, without having to force it.
Although gratitude is defined in several ways it is overall defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Well being is defined as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” Surely, it’s no surprise that feeling gratitude would cultivate positive feelings, which then would naturally contribute to feelings of contentment and happiness. Thus, a heightened well being.
But what if gratitude is hard to practice? How can we try to practice gratitude for our own good?
“Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to moments of experience with an accepting and friendly attitude so as to observe with all the senses what is happening in each moment.” A lot easier said than done, practicing mindfulness can be very beneficial to one’s mental health and makes it a little easier to feel gratitude in that particular moment (with no pressure) and others going forward. Take a few minutes to nurture and nourish your mind, as it can help free up space for whatever life may throw at you.
For years, writing down one’s thoughts and feelings has been used in all types of therapy. Whether it’s writing a letter to someone and not sending it, keeping a dream journal, or perhaps just writing in a journal for contemplation, writing has long been a medium for healthy expression. In this way, it can also be used to practice gratitude. Even if it’s just a sentence, “I’m thankful for the blue birds outside my window this morning,” it’s the small moments that make up the big positive picture.
Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to say how we feel, especially when we’re unhappy or going through something. How about when things are good? Or even when things are not good, what if we take a moment to think of something positive and express it out loud as we normally would, had it been something negative? Hearing that positive thing out loud could very well plant a positive seed in others’ minds as well as yours — a reminder that there are good small moments that, again, make up that bigger picture.
Again, easier said than done. And some things may be so difficult or so painful that you simply can’t “spin” it into “good,” or even find something good in it. That’s understandable. But for those moments when something feels like it’s just not going right, like maybe a family member unable to make it to Thanksgiving, try looking at it like this: “At least [insert other family member] will be able to make it this year,” or “at least they’re able to see their other family members this year,” or “this just means they will likely be with us next year.”
It’s true. Over the years, research has shown many documented examples of when volunteering or performing acts of kindness can be good for your mental health, increasing one’s sense of well being and lowering symptoms of depression. Even if it’s a small act, like making it a point to tell someone something positive about themselves, or holding the door, or even thanking them for helping you in a particular way in the past — it’s all good ways to practice gratitude.
I want to encourage you this Thanksgiving to start your resolutions a little early, and add to the list “Practice Gratitude,” as it can only be good for you and good for others. In hard times, seeing any little bit of good will help you stay afloat and will encourage others to try similar practices.
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