While Thanksgiving is a time that calls us to be grateful or show gratitude, it may feel really hard this year. 2020 has brought us so much stress – and caused so much distress – that for some, it may feel like there’s nothing to be thankful for. Yet practicing gratitude may help us see points of light in the darkness of hard times.
Gratitude is a positive emotion that involves appreciation for the intangible and tangible things we receive in our lives. The practice of gratitude gives us an opportunity to pause and notice our positive experiences, give thanks for them, and return kindness to others. Studies on the positive effects of gratitude have shown that it can help combat rumination and negative emotional states and boosts our resilience. Over time, practicing gratitude increases our ability to be mindful of our present experience and leads to an increase in overall well-being and connectedness with others.
A couple of years ago when my mother was dying, I spent my days rushing to organize my home life, my children, and my private practice so I could take time each week to drive out of state to be with her and my family in the hospital. I felt like I could barely keep my head above water and couldn’t attend fully to any one important thing in my life.
Needless to say, it was one of the most difficult experiences in my life, but one that showed me what was so important to me. After my mother died, I remember feeling filled with gratitude for my husband, who had quietly shouldered the brunt of the parenting and household life while being an unwavering support for me, never questioning my decision to be away so often or venting any gripes or concerns about his own needs. He respected my autonomy and was the calm in the storm when I needed him. My feeling of gratitude reminded me then, and reminds me still, that my husband shows me unconditional love in so many ways and that he values our family so much.
This year I encourage you to see points of gratitude in your life despite the tough circumstances you may be living through. Try actively practicing gratitude rather than passively waiting for it to show up. Take a moment to think of and write down a few things you’re grateful for and would like to focus your appreciation on as this year comes to a close.
Here are five strategies to help you work toward cultivating gratitude in your life:
Remind yourself that gratitude doesn’t only apply to “good” moments. Gratitude comes in all shapes and sizes and can be found in even the darkest of times. Focusing on my gratitude for my husband helped me to find ease in knowing my marriage and family life was a soft place to land as I grieved the loss of my mother.
Take note of what brings you happiness, joy, or ease. Maybe you heard a child’s laughter and found yourself smiling or received an unexpected thoughtful gift from someone. Perhaps you had 5 extra minutes to take care of yourself today or felt the warm sunshine on your skin. Think of things that give you some relief during challenging times.
Flip the script on negative thoughts. When you are in the midst of pain or suffering, it is easy to focus on the pain and suffering. What if in these moments, you asked yourself, “what else is here with the pain and suffering?” Be still for a few moments and try to label or list the things you see, hear or feel around you. Offers thanks to the neutral or positive things you notice. You may be surprised to notice that it’s not all pain and suffering or that your pain and suffering eases a bit.
Offer the gift of gratitude to someone else. When we show gratitude to someone else, we are acknowledging them and their actions as positively impacting us. We are giving ourselves something as well in that we can experience an increased sense of fulfillment or happiness. Small gestures are as important as big ones, so consider writing a thank you note, expressing appreciation over a call to someone you haven’t talked to in a while, or paying kindness forward through a gesture.
Be intentional. Studies have shown that we are more likely to follow through on actions with clearly defined goals and plans to attend to them. Consider scheduling a few minutes each week to intentionally think about gratitude. This may include using gratitude journaling, meditation, or prayer to structure your practice or simply setting a reminder to take a moment to consider a few things to be grateful for in that moment.
Although practicing gratitude does not guarantee feeling constant bliss and joy, it is something you have immediate control over, especially when everything feels out of control. Gratitude may support you in living a meaningful and purpose filled life. So, this Thanksgiving, I offer you thanks for reading this and considering how you may build gratitude into your daily life.
As the year comes to a close:
May you be safe and healthy.
May you live with ease.
May you be at peace.