At this time of year, we are bombarded with the word “Gratitude.” Faux-rustic signs, t-shirts, and television commercials all remind us to count our blessings and be grateful, grateful, grateful. It’s easy to tune those messages out, but gratitude is essential to our success. An attitude of gratitude for all that we have -- rather than anger or resentment for what we feel we lack -- is the foundation for change. Gratitude has hidden benefits and is actually good for us. Research shows that when we are able to identify and focus on feelings of sincere gratitude, we experience benefits including better health, improved sleep, and increased feelings of happiness. These feelings also bring us closer to those we love; acting on them shows others that we care for them and brings us to a higher level of empathy toward others. You can read more about what Psychology Today has to say about the benefits of gratitude here.
Repeated over and over, any word loses its meaning. Try it…say the word “apple” in your head 20 or 30 times in rapid succession. The first couple of times, you might envision a crisp, red piece of fruit. Chances are that, by the last repetition, you’re just hearing noise. That dulling of focus can happen with anything but there are steps that we can take to emphasize our gratitude practice and keep it vibrant.
Gratitude is called a practice for a reason! Cultivating a practice takes time and dedication! Offer a bit of each to yourself. Start each day by writing in a journal or just sitting quietly and making a mental list of the things you are grateful for. Begin with the things that are closest to you, such as your family, your friends, your job, your health, and your home.
As your practice becomes a daily habit, move on to noticing and expressing gratitude for small things that you might not even think of as privileges, such as your abilities to walk, hear, see, and more. Remember that there are people who would sacrifice anything to gain that which you might take for granted.
Finally, when you feel that you are mastering the practice, you must face the greatest challenge of all: finding and feeling gratitude in the midst of a challenge. Life is cyclical. Think of it like the weather. Some days are sunny and it rains on others but, even in the middle of the worst storm, the sun is still there, hiding above the clouds, waiting to return. Gratitude for Nature is easy when the sun is shining, but harder on a rainy day. Similarly, it’s easy to feel gratitude for all that we have when our blessings are evident, but more challenging when we aren’t feeling especially fortunate.
Finally, it’s important to be grateful for our families and friends. Holiday gatherings can sometimes be sometimes stressful and emotional. We embark on these occasions with the best of intentions, idealizing and romanticizing our loved ones, but then Mary’s new boyfriend has a few too many or Uncle Joey picks a political fight with someone he knows doesn’t share his views…you get the picture. Life is seldom as perfect as we imagine it to be. Gratitude means focusing on the good in each person we love. Even the most difficult people have redeeming qualities.
I wish you a blessed and beautiful Holiday season.