Being Thankful and Practicing Gratitude

As we approach Thanksgiving later this week, many Americans will reflect on things they feel grateful for. Practicing gratitude can amount to numerous benefits for social, emotional, and physical health. Among the advantages are lower levels of anxiety, greater happiness, higher self-esteem, better sleep, fewer negative thoughts, and generally feeling more fulfilled. Conversely, individuals who are more prone toward negativity tend to experience lower overall satisfaction with life, and have poorer health outcomes.

While 2020 has brought about enormous hardship and pain for many, there are undoubtedly some positives that have derived from the challenges. It is often the difficult times that most necessitate gratitude. Not to say that it is easy, sometimes finding gratitude means stepping outside of your comfort zone but, by focusing on the encouraging prospects that stem from adversity, hope can emerge.

During a year in which we have experienced massive loss and felt immense sadness, it can be hard to recognize the bright spots. However, there are always silver linings for which you can feel grateful. The more you integrate gratitude into your daily routine, the more it will become a constant presence. Here are some approaches for incorporating gratitude into your life, even if just a little bit at a time:

  • Make an effort to be present. When you are aware of your surroundings and circumstances, it allows you to take note of what is happening and reflect on those things while connecting with your feelings. Being mindful and in the moment can alleviate stress and eliminate “noise.” When we can see things more clearly, it provides an opening to focus on the good.
  • Surround yourself with people who you can celebrate successes with. Positivity can act as a magnet and strengthen all types of relationships: romantic, familial, friendships, even professional interactions. Individuals who feel consistent gratitude are more likely to experience greater satisfaction and fulfillment across the board.
  • Practice kindness. When we engage in acts of kindness, it prompts us to feel good about ourselves. These don’t have to be colossal acts; even the smallest nods of kindness can render feelings of gratitude. In addition to being kind to others, it’s important to remember the value of self-directed kindness. When we pause to take a break and recharge, we allow ourselves more bandwidth to be available to others. Self-care is an important component of being in touch with your own needs, allowing room to reflect and practice gratitude.
  • Look for the silver linings. Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean you discount or ignore the obstacles; rather it means looking to the positive elements that can develop from challenging situations. For example, focusing on good memories following a loss, reveling in more time spent with loved ones during quarantine, or appreciating improved health after a bout with illness.
  • Connect with what you enjoy. Generally we feel grateful when we are surrounded by the things and people who bring us joy. Spending time with your pets. Reading. Viewing artwork or creating your own artistic creations. Listening to or playing music. Being in nature. Exercising. Family time. Whatever it is that speaks to you, find time and make those things a priority. By doing what you love, you will create opportunities for which you feel grateful.
  • Look for meaning and practice purpose. When we occupy ourselves with endeavors that are fulfilling, it amounts to gratitude. This might be embarking on a career that has been a lifelong dream, getting involved with causes that you are passionate about, or doing meaningful volunteer work. Being dedicated to the things that motivate you can inadvertently lead to gratitude.
  • Engage in rituals that resonate with you. This can look different for everyone. Some people are active in organized religion while others may feel a connection to a higher power in the form of spirituality. Religion and spirituality may not speak to everyone and accordingly, there are other forms of rituals that can generate gratitude. These may include meditation, exercise, or yoga practice. Engaging our bodies and minds in any kind of ritual can leave us feeling grateful.
  • Create reminders for those things you feel grateful for. We live in a world where everything seems to operate at supersonic speed. When life passes us by so quickly, we often don’t have a chance to pause and reflect. However, you can capture the moment when a feeling of gratitude arises by writing it down on a piece of paper or post-it note and putting those in places where you will happen upon them at a later time. You can also do this with pictures that take you back to special moments. As many smartphones allow you to create folders, you can even make a gratitude folder to store pictures and you can also hold onto those keepsake, old-fashion printed photos. 
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Many people find it helpful to keep track of what they feel thankful for by documenting those things. Some people are consistent about writing in their gratitude journals daily; others might do so more sporadically. There is no right or wrong way to keep a gratitude journal, it’s whatever works for you! This also provides an opportunity to go back and review journal entries at a later date. If keeping a journal doesn’t appeal to you, you may consider other ways to keep track of your gratitude; for example, holding onto special emblems or tokens that can serve as reminders of gratitude.
  • Be on the lookout for the simple joys. It is sometimes the small and seemingly trivial things that can amount to the most. It can be easy to overlook the mundane moments but if we do this, we may miss out on things that have the potential to bring us joy and gratitude. That might be coffee with a friend, a relaxing bath, or enjoying your favorite ice cream flavor.

However it is that you cultivate gratitude, feeling thankful can be a positive addition to the everyday of our busy lives.