The Thanksgiving season is upon us. At this time of year, it’s customary to consider what we’re thankful for and share this with others just before partaking in a marvelous meal. For most of us, this is a worthwhile exercise that provides us an opportunity to mindfully notice the good in our lives. We may experience a mental and emotional shift, a boost of mood and energy that stays with us until we get caught up again in the challenges of life. I’d like to offer some information with the hope of encouraging and empowering you so that you can have this uplifting experience beyond Thanksgiving Day. This starts with understanding the power of embracing gratitude.
Did you know that although used interchangeably, there is actually a difference between thankfulness and gratitude? Thankfulness refers to an expression or feeling of appreciation for something received or done. For example, I might be thankful that my co-worker helped me complete a project or that the barista at my favorite coffee shop threw in an extra shot of espresso at no extra charge. In response, I might say, “thank you” to let the other person know I noticed and appreciated what they did. Being thankful is often prompted by something done externally for us by someone else. Gratitude does not require a precipitating event to be done by someone else. Gratitude is an internal experience, initiated within us. It’s intentionally noticing what we already have and what is good in our lives, regardless of what is done by others and what we do not have.
Sounds good right? Maybe to some of you. Others might be thinking, “you don’t understand my life. Being grateful is really hard right now. Don’t you see all that is going on in the world?” To all of you I say, “I get it.” When we are in the middle of something really hard, or sometimes multiple experiences that are really hard, it can be difficult to practice gratitude. However, I would offer that it is in those times that it’s all the more important to practice this intention. Why? Because our brains tend to focus on what elicits the most intense emotion or feeling at the time. Setting an intention of gratitude helps us to train and focus our brains to mindfully notice what is good even when everything is not good, which allows us to have a more complete experience. Embracing gratitude doesn’t mean denying the difficult or painful experiences you’ve had. It doesn’t mean ignoring things happening in the world that aren’t good. It means that you can make room to recognize and include what is good, even in the midst of difficulty and pain.
Practicing gratitude is an intentional practice that can help to elicit a positive mindset and feelings, which can boost mood and energy. While this practice may be challenging at times, intentionally embracing gratitude regularly is sure to have positive effects that can be seen throughout every area of our lives. Starting this practice may seem overwhelming, but remember that every great work starts with one small step. Here are some steps you can take to integrate gratitude practices into your life:
- Keep a gratitude journal (written, audio or video). Journaling is a well-known mindfulness practice. A gratitude journal is a key investment into your gratitude bank. Not only will it help you identify positive and good in your life in the present moment, but you can also go back and read, listen to or watch past entries in difficult times to spark inspiration.
- Notice and express appreciation for yourself. We often spend energy focusing on what we didn’t do and don’t have. Take some time to notice and express appreciation for you, just as you are. For example, thank yourself for working out, whether it was for 15 minutes or 30. Notice that you’re great at your job. Appreciate your good work as a parent.
- Express gratitude to or for someone else. Noticing and expressing appreciation for yourself can often spark a chain reaction and inspiration to start doing the same in your relationships with others. Tell your partner that you appreciate them and you’re glad they are in your life. Let your colleague know you admire their work. Tell your child you’re proud of them. If you’re struggling with this, try identifying how you would want others to express gratitude to you. What would you want them to notice, say, or do? Then, do that for them.