“Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have.”
Gratitude, appreciation, thankfulness. Many of us, in the weeks leading up to our Thanksgiving meals, have been more aware of what we have to be thankful for. This is great of course, but what about the rest of the year? Establishing a regular practice of gratitude doesn’t need to revolve around the holidays, of course.
The practice of gratitude has received increasing attention in recent years as researchers, mental health professionals and others have recognized the powerful impact of an often overlooked and underdeveloped habit. Research consistently shows that people who develop a habit of practicing gratitude experience very real benefits such as higher levels of joy and optimism, increased compassion, increased connectedness with others, stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure.
Gratitude can be a protective factor in our romantic relationships as well. Drs. John and Julie Gottman, renowned couples Therapists & researchers, have found that couples who demonstrate appreciation for one another have higher rates of intact, satisfying relationships. In the workplace, employees who feel appreciated by their employer and/or co-workers describe a more trusting work environment, a better sense of self-worth, and greater emotional investment in their work.
Our children also experience our respect and deeper connections with us when we can show our appreciation to them: for the things that they do but more importantly, for their very existence and the people they are. One way to show appreciation to our children (and admittedly, I find this to be very difficult at times), is by ensuring that we slow down, that we make time to be fully present with them, whether it’s pausing what we’re doing for the few minutes that it takes for our young child to show us something interesting, or watching their team play without socializing and checking our phones. In moments of parenting-induced exasperation (usually at least once a day), my husband and I remind each other that “you’re gonna miss this”, a la Trace Adkins. “You’re gonna want this back. You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast.” I am grateful for the reminder.
I realize that the idea of gratitude might seem unrealistic when life gets hard, when we’re faced with a frightening diagnosis, when we’re grieving loved ones, when we’ve lost our job and money is tight, when tragedy abounds, when the days feel overwhelming. But we all have something (or more likely, lots of somethings) to be grateful for: people you love (and who love you); a place to call home; food in your pantry; an uneventful ride to work; education & teachers which allow you to read; freedom; a sunny day; a rainy day; your sense of sight which allows you to make eye contact with others; your ability to walk; technology; clean water that you can drink, hydrate your pets, cleanse yourself with and play in; hugs; another day when your loved ones returned home. What else are you grateful for?
Begin a regular practice of gratitude by first noticing what you have to be grateful for. Then mark it somehow, savor the impact by creating a running list in a journal, calendar entries, a series of notes in our phones, a thankful tree in our home or office, a gratitude jar, etc. Review from time to time. And don’t stop at feeling and taking stock of your gratitude; Share it! Make a habit of genuinely thanking someone on a regular basis. You can even take it a step further and pen an old-fashioned (and often unexpected) thank you note.
Practicing gratitude is beneficial, requires little time or effort and is free. I challenge everyone to make it a priority long after the Thanksgiving turkey is gone. Thank YOU for reading!