November kicks off the holiday season and with it comes feelings of excitement for cozy and festive moments ahead. But for many, this time of year can be a time of sadness, anxiousness, and overwhelm. Especially this year, as we continue to battle an unrelenting pandemic which will likely cause our holidays to look a little different. Many people are mourning the loss of loved ones. Several states are imposing limits on holiday gatherings. And some folks are simply overwhelmed and anxious about all of the expectation that comes with the holiday season.
The good news is that research suggests that one major aspect of Thanksgiving can actually lift the spirits — expressing gratitude. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives.
Research on gratitude
“Shifting your mindset to one of gratitude takes a little practice, but the payoff is powerful. Taking the time to count your blessings can greatly benefit your overall well-being – from helping mitigate depression, stress and anxiety, to making you feel happier in your relationships and throughout your daily life.”
Shifting your mindset to one of gratitude takes a little practice, but the payoff is powerful. Taking the time to count your blessings can greatly benefit your overall well-being. Research shows gratitude can help mitigate depression, stress, and anxiety. And, it can make you feel happier in your relationships and throughout your daily life.
In fact, a 2017 study in The Review of Communication reported that the more subjects expressed gratitude, the more long-term success they experienced in their relationships. Similarly, research out of the University of Georgia found that couples who were vocal about their appreciation for one another had a stronger marital bond.
And in 2019 Northwestern University researchers found that gratitude helped improve the quality of life for those dealing with a life-threatening illness. Furthermore, a 2014 study found that more grateful people were better at coping with trauma and high-stress situations.
Ways to cultivate gratitude
Gratitude is a way for people to express appreciation for what they already have. Instead of striving for something new in hopes that it will make them happy, gratitude helps people refocus on what they have rather than what they lack.
Read on for some simple ways to make being thankful a habit.
Write a thank-you note.
A written thank-you note can enhance our own happiness, according to a 2018 study in Psychological Science. Expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of another person’s impact on your life can nurture your relationship.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Jot down a list of all the things, big and small, you’re grateful for each day. A good time to do this is in the evening when you can review the day. A 2009 study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that gratitude helped people sleep more soundly and for a longer duration.
However, if you’d prefer to do it in the morning, that works, too. The key is to fit it into your day so that it becomes a habit. And if a daily practice feels overwhelming, try choosing three to five things to write about once a week. Be specific and tune into the feelings and sensations you felt while experiencing something good.
Below are a few prompts to get the juices flowing.
I’m grateful for:
- these three friends:
- three family members:
- five things in my home:
- something that I didn’t have five years ago, or even a year ago:
Pray and/or Meditate.
Prayer is a powerful way to cultivate gratitude, by counting your blessings. Even when you’re feeling less than grateful and don’t feel like there is a blessing in a situation, be open to expressing appreciation for the most basic blessings. There is always something to be thankful for, even if it’s simply being alive.
Mindfulness meditation is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. You can practice meditating on gratitude by bringing to mind something or someone you feel grateful for and notice how it feels in your heart and body. By consciously connecting to these feelings of appreciation, life’s setbacks and disappointments will be easier to put into perspective.
Here’s a 9-minute gratitude practice to help you cultivate gratitude in your life today.
Pay it forward.
Numerous studies have found that paying it forward boosts overall life satisfaction, happiness, and wellness. When we are kind to others in need, we gain a deeper understanding of our own good fortune; our awareness deepens and heightens our own understanding of self. You might be surprised to learn that one simple act of kindness can change someone or many peoples day and fill your heart with gratitude and compassion at the same time.
Here are a few ideas to pay it forward:
- Smile or say hello to a stranger.
- Offer your seat to someone on a crowded bus or train.
- Volunteer at a homeless or pet shelter in your neighborhood, if possible (wear a mask & be sure to social distance).
- Pick up trash at a neighborhood park or beach.
- Donate clothes, toys, and gadgets to a local organization in need.
- Hold the door open for someone.
- Buy coffee for the person in line behind you.
Make it a fun/creative activity.
- Make a gratitude jar. Fill it with slips of paper listing moments and things you’re grateful for each day. Place a mason jar along with a small pad of paper or Post-its and a pen- in a designated area. Every day make it a point to write down one thing you’re grateful for, fold it up, and put it in your jar. If you are ever feeling especially down and need a quick pick-me-up, take a few notes out of the jar to remind yourself of who, and what is good in your life.
- Make a gratitude tree. This is an excellent activity for children, and it can also be effective for adults who are open to experiencing a childlike sense of fun and wonder. This activity is easy and results in a pretty reminder of the things that bring you or your child joy throughout your daily life. Here’s a quick how-to video:
The amazing thing is that gratitude is always accessible to us, even in life’s most difficult moments. We just need to allow ourselves the gift of experiencing it.