For many Americans, Thanksgiving week brings no small amount of focus on food, family, and, at least in my house, probably a little football (not necessarily in that order). Some of us even throw in viewing the big parade or the dog show that follows it on television to add to the warm feelings we seek to create during late fall.
This week is also a reminder that not all in America participate equally in a bounty that seems increasingly hard to reach for too many people.
During our annual pilgrimage into the colors and smells of the season, we also hear a lot talk about and, hopefully, experience some feelings of gratitude. Therefore, this week also allows us to stop and think about what it means to be grateful and, perhaps, even to spend a few minutes learning how to cultivate gratitude in our lives.
Of course, it’s easy to feel grateful when things are going well, our table is full, and life is good. “I am so grateful for (insert wonderful experience)!” On the other hand, it can be a challenge to feel grateful, to turn our focus away from our daily struggles, when life is difficult.
An increasing number of studies have found that simply stopping to reflect upon life’s blessings, on what’s going right in our lives, even in the difficult times (or perhaps particularly in those times), can foster gratitude and improve our overall well-being.
A comprehensive whitepaper, The Science of Gratitude, authored for the John Templeton Foundation by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley and Summer Allen, Ph.D., reviews the roots of gratitude and the burgeoning research aimed at figuring out its benefits.
Not surprisingly, Allen observes: “Gratitude is associated with many benefits for individuals, including better physical and psychological health, greater happiness and life satisfaction, less materialism, and more.” It’s hard to argue with the impressive body of science she assembles, or find a reason to.
The bottom line is that gratitude is good for us.
So what are the practical things we can do at this time of year to enhance our feelings of gratitude? Fortunately, the Greater Good Science Center also has created a list of exercises you can do in your own home to create more gratitude this week.
For example, the Three Good Things practice (merely taking ten minutes a day to write down three things that went well for you today), which you can find here, provides a daily way of bringing more gratitude into your life. The Three Good Things exercise is widely credited to Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, and a short video from Dr. Seligman, further explains the exercise and its benefits.
Others have written extensively on this topic, and another collection of gratitude exercises for your use is located at the website www.positivephycology.com. There are even apps available for your phone to help you bring more awareness and gratitude into your life.
The point of all of these exercises and practices is to refocus the mind, even for a few minutes a day, on what’s working well in our lives. And there is always more of that than we allow ourselves to believe, even when life is hard.
As we move into this holiday season and we are surrounded by talk of gratitude, what better time is there for all of us to take a few minutes to consciously engage in a gratitude practice? We know it can’t hurt, and science tells us it may help our overall sense of well-being and our health.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!