Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and soon it will be time to calculate exactly how many pounds of turkey you need for each person at your table, how to schedule your meal around football, and whether it's worth it to get up at the crack of dawn the next day for some Black Friday shopping.
The fourth Thursday in November is often seen as the opening act for the big December holidays, but Thanksgiving is an important day in its own right. This day invites us all to pause and consider all that we have. It's the one day of the year when the entire country focuses on gratitude—something that most people could stand to do more of.
The Benefits of Gratitude
When the Puritans held the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, they weren't necessarily thinking about their mental health. But gratitude has a way of creating an upward spiral of good feelings that reinforces itself. When you take a moment to feel grateful for the good things in your life, you feel good. When you feel good, you have more to feel grateful for. And so it goes.
- Improved relationships with others
- Increased feelings of happiness
- Higher self-esteem
- Better resilience in the face of difficulty
- Reduced odds of depression
- Lower ratings of aggression and envy
- Better decision-making skills
- Improved self-care skills
- Increased willpower
- Improved sleep
- Fewer aches and pains
How to Cultivate Gratitude in Everyday Life
With all of the remarkable benefits of gratitude, why don't more people make a point to nurture these feelings and express their thanks?
Like anything else, gratitude takes time.
When you're busy working, caring for children or aging parents, going housework, volunteering and — gasp! — trying to find a minute to unwind, it's hard to focus on how fortunate you are. But gratitude requires a quiet moment to reflect on exactly what you have and to feel the warm feelings of thankfulness. It's a mindful activity.
Fortunately, a gratitude practice doesn't have to take long. The important thing is to do it regularly. Try these ideas to get started.
If you struggle to slow down and appreciate the little things, adding a meditation practice to your routine can help you focus on gratitude. A meditation app can get you started for as little as 10 minutes a day, and many have guided sessions designed to help you lean into feelings of gratitude.
Psychologists recommend keeping a gratitude journal to help you focus on all the little things that you have to be thankful for. This exercise takes only a few minutes, and all you have to do is review your day for something that brought you joy. Then write it down! Try describing what you are grateful for as well as how it made you feel to help you emotionally relive the moment.
Pro Tip: Keep your gratitude journal on your bedside table so that warm, positive feelings are the last thing you think about before you drift off to sleep.
Say Thank You
As you develop your capacity for gratitude, it's important to shift your practice from an internal one to something you share with others. One University of Pennsylvania study showed that writing a letter of gratitude to someone did more to boost happiness than any other act. You can start by simply saying thank you to people throughout your day for acts large and small.
Share the Love
Once you begin to exercise your gratitude muscles, it's common to find that feeling thankful becomes a habit. As you change your outlook, you may realize that there are people in your life who have done so much for you that it can feel impossible to express your feelings in a meaningful way. How can you possibly thank a parent or grandparent for a lifetime of support and care?
Chuck Reynolds holding his finished StoryTerrace book
At StoryTerrace, we believe that the opportunity to tell a life story is the most meaningful gift you can give. One of the best ways to show your gratitude to a parent is by showing an interest in all that they've done — including the things you never noticed or thought of before. A Story Terrace biography gives your loved ones an opportunity to tell the story of their life to a professional biographer. Many of our clients find this process therapeutic, and they marvel at the sense of perspective and clarity that telling their story brings. It's a gift that brings families closer as they learn about themselves and each other through the storytelling process.
This Thanksgiving, as you take the time to feel grateful around the table with friends and family, consider all the ways you can continue to nurture those feelings throughout the year.
If Story Terrace can help you express your gratitude to your parents or another loved one, please reach out. We'd love to help you to say "thank you" in the most meaningful way possible. If you enjoyed reading this, sign up for our newsletter so we can keep sharing tips, stories and other exciting content with you.