With Thanksgiving approaching we are reminded through the powerful media universe how we must show gratitude or we are bad people and how being grateful in our lives can make us super happy evolved humans. But is it really all it's cracked up to be?! Is it just another heavily commercialized holiday telling us what to do with our lives, suggesting if we don't fit society's Thanksgiving mold we might fall into the depths of a giant pumpkin infested pit of gratitude guilt?! Yikes, don't take me there!! I promise I'll be thankful, I promise!
There are some pretty solid reasons gratitude is a winning practice that goes beyond the Thanksgiving holiday. The practice of gratitude has been a very popular research topic within the positive psychology realm. Studies show that being grateful in our lives can truly help to increase overall sense of well being by enhancing feelings of kindness and empathy, ultimately contributing to building better connections with others. There was one research article on this topic that really got my attention in grad school. In their study (forgive me, I can't find the exact article) they found that people who practiced gratitude on a regular basis (using mostly gratitude journals and some other practices) over several months actually created new healthy neural pathways in their brains. Once these new neural pathways have been greased and are in full use, they found that participants experienced greater happiness and appreciation for life. Brain science is awesome, right?! Fancy academic research aside, please tell me: what about those really bad times in our lives? Do we just pretend that we can put a band aid of gratitude over all the yuckiness and everything will be fine? Probably not. Acknowledging pain in our lives and receiving validation and support for what we are going through is crucial to healing. However, could gratitude sneak in there somewhere and help us get through it just a bit??
So with all these studies telling us gratitude makes happier humans and Thanksgiving coming up, want to give it a try?
Here are 3 simple ways to insert a little gratitude into your life:
1. When trying to fall asleep at night, choose 5 things from your day you are thankful for. Take your time as you review and digest each gratitude nugget. This can set you up for some very sweet dreams.
2. If your day is starting off on the wrong foot; stop yourself, slow down and spend a quiet moment in gratitude focusing on a couple items you are truly thankful for.
This might be in your car just before you step out to go to work or silently in the washroom with your kids yelling outside. This is one of my personal favorites and an almost guaranteed attitude changer. Warning: this does require deliberate effort and the act of slowing down.
3. Connect with your partner, your kids, your pet, whomever, before a meal and share with each other some things you are thankful for and appreciate from your day. This is a great way to honor and value what is important to each of us and might just be simple things like delicious ice cream or a bus being on time.