Practicing and Showing Gratitude This Thanksgiving and Always
Thanksgiving is America’s favorite holiday, with 79% of U.S. citizens favoring it over other annual celebrations. With good reason; Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy bountiful food, spend time with family and friends, watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, our favorite football teams and – most importantly – give thanks for the blessings in our lives before the hustle and bustle of the December “holidaze.”
Indeed, this uniquely American celebration that Abraham Lincoln declared a national holiday in 1863 (and Franklin Roosevelt fixed on the fourth Thursday in November 1941) is a beloved day for many.
But how can we be more intentional, more specific about giving thanks now and always?
Let’s start by looking at the significant benefits of gratitude.
An Attitude of Gratitude Is Good for Your Health
Not surprisingly, being grateful every day of the year ensures better overall health, especially during these times of distress and division all over the world. Here are just some of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of making a daily practice of gratitude:
- Better physical health. One study found that people who were more grateful had lower blood pressure, better immune function, and better heart health. Practicing gratitude has also been linked to fewer aches and pains.
- Improved sleep. Pondering the good things in your life before bed, rather than spiraling through a litany of worries, has been proven to improve sleep. It certainly makes sense!
- Trauma healing. Several studies have shown that practicing gratitude has helped people overcome past trauma.
- “Happy hormones” boost. Regularly acknowledging our blessings strengthens neural pathways and produces more “feel good” chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine.
- More fulfilling relationships. Expressing appreciation for the people in our lives strengthens bonds, solidifies friendships, and makes us more enjoyable to be around.
- Reduced stress and greater happiness. It may seem obvious, but being grateful on a regular basis makes for an overall brighter outlook on life. There is untold value in appreciating even the smallest benevolences, no matter one’s circumstances.
Count Your Blessings
It’s called a “practice” of gratitude for a reason. Thankfulness to the degree of improved overall wellbeing requires more than a passing thought here and there or a few words at the Thanksgiving table once a year (though that is a valued tradition in many homes).
Incorporating daily gratitude into one’s life can be achieved in several ways. Here are just a few:
- Make a list of what you’re grateful for. Preferably first thing in the morning to start your day on the right foot and/or last thing at night to ensure peaceful sleep, write down, think about or name out loud those loved ones, opportunities, advantages, fulfilled needs, simple pleasures, creature comforts, pets, encounters with nature, protections, etc. that warrant a spirit of gratefulness.
- Keep a gratitude journal or jar. Putting pen and paper (or electronic device) to those things for which we are thankful is a concrete, tangible way to not only acknowledge them in the moment but revisit them later. A gratitude jar is a fun way to jot down and store our thankful thoughts; on those days when we need a boost, we can reach in and draw out a needed reminder.
- Meditate or pray. Find a quiet place to sit peacefully with your grateful thoughts, inviting – literally breathing – them in. If you pray, begin by thanking your higher power for all that is good and right in your life.
- Make it part of your daily routine. Like a fitness regimen, it’s easier to make a habit of gratitude if you commit to it on a regular basis, ideally at the same time each day. Prioritize the practice of gratitude so it’s a reliable presence; goodness knows, enough hassle and hardship will naturally come our way!
Public (and Not So Public) Displays of Thankfulness
There are as many ways to show thankfulness as there are individuals on earth. Yet sometimes it’s hard to know how to show our appreciation for others.
A good place to begin is by examining what we ourselves are grateful for (see “Count Your Blessings” above) and exploring how we might bestow those blessings upon someone else.
Here are some ways you might demonstrate gratefulness, especially during this season of Thanksgiving.
- Tell someone what they mean to you. The power of an encouraging word can make someone’s entire day. Tell the people you love exactly why you value them in your life. Be specific about their personal attributes.
- Bring someone a meal or treat. An old saying says that the fastest way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Indeed, few things say “I appreciate and care about you” like a home-cooked meal, a warm bowl of soup, a special dessert.
- Volunteer at a local charitable organization. Homeless shelters, pet shelters, food pantries…the opportunities to lend a hand to those committed to helping others are endless. Older adults especially have time and opportunity to give in this way.
- Engage in random acts of kindness. Pay for the person behind you in the coffee shop, offer your place in line to a stranger, hold the door for someone struggling with a heavy load, or offer to carry it. There are so many simple ways we can offer benevolence and likely set off a chain reaction of good deeds.
- Help with yardwork or errands. Busy people, older people, people struggling with illness…there are so many in need of help with taxing yardwork, housework, necessary errands. Offer to assist someone for whom these tasks are difficult.
- Visit someone who’s lonely or isolated. Show up for someone who’s grieving, feeling lonely, or cut off from society. There is perhaps no greater gift than simply making time to be in meaningful communion with others.
- Tell others about a local business you like. Have a favorite dry cleaner, hair stylist, plumber? Tell others about their good work! Word of mouth is far and away the best form of marketing.
- Offer to babysit or pet sit. Offer your adult children a date night (added bonus: time with the grandkids!) or take care of a pet while someone is away. Being “good hands” to others offers them peace of mind and saves them money, too.
- Send a “snail mail” letter or card. Even (especially?) in our hurried digital age, people love to receive a physical note of cheer, thanks, or encouragement in the mailbox.
- Pray for someone in need. So often, we tell people we will pray for them. But how often do we really do it? Even if you don’t believe in prayer, if someone knows you’re truly thinking healing thoughts on their behalf, you are offering them an invaluable gift.
- Donate to your favorite charity. “Giving Tuesday” is November 28 this year. What better time to offer funds to a cause important to you?
- Invite a single person(s) to Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is not strictly for family (Friendsgiving, anyone?). Many people find themselves alone on Thanksgiving, whether because they’re widowed, divorced, far from family, or other reasons. Bring them to the table!
Simple acts of thankfulness reap big rewards, for both giver and receiver. This Thanksgiving, remember to practice gratitude long after the last bite of pumpkin pie is gone.
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