The Importance of Practicing Gratitude
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. This holiday is often overlooked, sandwiched between Halloween candy and Christmas consumerism. It’s an important holiday to celebrate, though, because it makes us focus on what we have instead of drawing attention to what we don’t. Thanksgiving is a positive, other-centered celebration versus the me-me-me of other holidays.
We should be grateful for the basic things we often take for granted: a roof over our heads, clothes to keep us warm, enough food, and clean water. We can focus our gratitude on the extras: family vacations, our car, a coffee drink at Starbucks.
How often do we forget about the little things? Things such as: the sun shining, birds chirping, your spouse’s smile? Too often we get caught up in the big-ticket items and dismiss the small. But often it’s those little things that make life truly worth living.
Ways to Practice Gratitude
The following are ways to be mindful of what we have:
Keep a gratitude diary. Purchase a notebook and list the good things that happen to you each day. Did you hear your favorite song on the radio? Was it supposed to rain but didn’t? Were you able to run one block further than the day before? These don’t have to be big things. After writing down these positive things, note your thoughts and feelings surrounding them. The journal is something to keep on hand for when you feel blue.
You can also purchase gratitude journals. These have a brief story or quote to read, ponder and write about. For example, the story may be about friends being there during difficult times. At the end of the story, the journal then prompts you to think of a time when something similar happened to you.
Create a gratitude jar. If you have children, this is something you can work on together. Find a jar (or any container), decorate and label it. Each day put at least one thing into it for which you’re grateful. Not only can your kids help decorate it, they can write down and add their own thoughts. On challenging days, look through the notes and focus on the positive. At the end of the year, take a look through the jar and remember all your blessings. Make it a New Year’s Resolution and do it again!
Many families share what they’re grateful for during Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t just limit this practice to Thanksgiving, do it weekly!
Meet up weekly with a friend to talk about all the great stuff happening in your life. Challenge your friend to do the same. Not only will you be more mindful of life’s blessings, you’ll have a gratitude buddy to help you focus on the positive during difficult days.
Write people thank you notes. Don’t limit this when they purchase you a gift or help you out. Send them a card to say thanks just for being your friend, (your mother, your wife, etc).
Health Benefits of Practicing Gratitude
There are many benefits to practicing gratitude.
Being mindful of what you have and practicing gratitude keeps you in the present rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past. Because you’re focusing on the positive (what you have) versus the negative (what you don’t have) there are numerous benefits. Short-term, practicing gratitude helps you feel more positive and optimistic. Long-term, it can help with depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that people who practice gratitude are more likely to help others.
When things aren’t going well, the tendency is to focus on the bad. When the toxic thoughts pop up, do your best to nip them in the bud. A couple ways to do this: write your thoughts on a piece of toilet paper and then flush it down the toilet; write them on paper and rip it up or send it through the paper shredder. Then get back on track by noting something positive.
Keep It Up
Remember don’t stop being thankful when November is over. Use these suggestions to hold onto your gratitude year-round.
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