By Kristine Petterson
You may have heard the William Arthur Ward quote, “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and never giving it.”
It’s a great reminder to make an extra effort this holiday season to share your gratitude for special people in your life. This year, when the world seems to be overflowing with adversity and lacking in closeness and compassion, a gratitude practice may be more important than ever. The best part: Acknowledging our thanks to others doesn’t cost a thing and is shown to benefit the giver as much as the receiver.
There’s been a buzz about gratitude by the media and scholars over the past decade. Being more aware of the benefits of a formal gratitude practice could give you reason to double down on sharing your thanks with the world. But, what if you’re just not feeling it? Maybe you’re overwhelmed, or you’re not sure what to feel grateful for in this challenging time.
I get it. My first couple of attempts at a formal gratitude practice were superficial and involved lots of long sighs and eye rolling. Add one more thing to my list? Umm, no thanks. Eventually, at a friend’s insistence, we started a daily gratitude share in which, everyday, we exchanged a text with a photo or a few things that we were grateful for. It took about a minute and allowed me to look back over the day with appreciation for the positive moments that stood out.
Gratitude is like a muscle. After a few weeks of consistency, the gratitude exchange became something I looked forward to. Better yet, I was now looking for things to be grateful for throughout my day so that I could share them later. I anticipated seeing friends, being in nature or connecting with clients. Those one or two minutes at the end of each day helped reveal joyful moments with more clarity and gave me greater strength to deal with challenges.
Turns out that data on happiness and gratitude confirms that the more we practice gratitude, the better we attune to positive emotions and outcomes unfolding daily.
In “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky describes gratitude as “a kind of meta-strategy for achieving happiness.” In one study, Lyubomirsky asked a group of participants to log five things they felt grateful for once a week for 10 weeks. Results showed that those who expressed gratitude felt greater satisfaction and optimism with their lives. Additionally, their health benefited as well; fewer physical symptoms (such as headaches, acne, coughing or nausea) were reported, and participants in the gratitude group spent more time exercising.
“Gratitude is many things to many people,” Lyubomirsky says. “It is wonder; it is appreciation; it is looking on the bright side of a setback; it is fathoming abundance; it is thanking someone in your life; it is thanking God; it is ‘counting blessings.’ It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is coping; it is present-oriented.”
The great news is that there are many quick and simple actions that you could take to create more positivity and happiness in your life. The most common suggestion is to keep a gratitude journal where you log two to three situations or interactions that brought you joy. In one study, participants who did this just once a week showed an improvement in happiness.
If that sounds like too much too soon, here’s a list of other ways to wade a bit more slowly into the waters of gratitude:
- Write a thank you card and mail it.
- Send a text or photo of appreciation.
- Take a picture of something or someone you’re grateful for each day.
- Cook with love.
- Thank others for their hard work.
- Record and share a short video to let friends and family know they mean a lot to you.
- Smile at strangers.
- Acknowledge your own strengths.
- Make it a habit; every time you’re at a red light or brushing your teeth, reflect on what you’re thankful for.
Imagine what might happen if you get the whole family on the gratitude train: kids who feel appreciated, complain less, and say thank you more often? Yes, Please. Use Thanksgiving 2020 as an inspiration for your family to start a new habit going forward. Invite them to share something they are grateful for at the dinner table or as part of their bedtime routine each night and see what unfolds.
Petterson lives in Moscow with her husband and their two children. She left public education to become a yoga instructor, sleep specialist and mindful parenting educator. She can be contacted via her website at www.kpettersonsleep.com