Happy November everyone! The beginning of November means the start of the holiday season. I really love this time of year and one of the things I love most is that it is a time when I feel myself, my family and so many others making an effort to focus on one of the most powerful emotions we have – Gratitude. Gratitude is not simply an emotional response; it is a choice that we make. And as we enter into the holiday season it seems like the ideal time to share a few reasons why I feel it is so valuable to choose to live with gratitude. I will then provide some simple suggestions to help you incorporate a habit of gratitude into your daily life.
As writer Alexis de Tocqueville beautifully described, gratitude is “a habit of the heart.” Simply stated it is recognizing and appreciating all that you have. It is taking moments to acknowledge and breathe these things in while releasing any focus on things you lack.
One of my favorite reasons for making gratitude a habit is that it is an amazing way to reduce stress. When life’s worries about kids, work, health, our world, etc. start to cause stress, a great way to remedy this is with gratitude. In those stressful moments, if we refocus ourselves on what we have to be grateful for, the positive emotions we feel as we count our blessings will help our relaxation response kick in and calm us down.
A grateful heart helps us to feel content and secure in the life we have. Our consumer culture works to get us to feel like we need the newest or next best thing instead of being content and grateful for what is ours already. When we get caught up in materialism we feel exhausting emotions like insecurity and envy. Gratitude acts as our shield against these depleting feelings. By examining our list of things we are grateful for, so often we will find they are things that money cannot buy, i.e. family, friends or health, so it allows us to reflect on how unimportant material items really are. Gratitude shifts our focus away from what we are missing in life and allows us to feel fulfilled and happy with what we already have.
Gratitude can help develop resilience. There are going to be challenging times when things happen that we don’t like or don’t agree with. Choosing to be grateful for these challenges is one of the best ways we can transform these situations and ultimately our lives. By meeting a difficult situation with a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation for the opportunity to grow and learn, the negativity will be unable to hold us down for long. This transforms gratitude into a pro-active coping skill that helps us to grow instead of fall-apart in times of stress.
Another important reason to choose to live with gratitude is that it allows us to live more fully in the present moment. Remaining in the present moment can be a difficult thing to do. It is so easy to find ourselves worried about what the future may hold or wrapped up in what we could have done differently in the past. But when we choose to be grateful we automatically bring ourselves into the present moment. We do this by appreciating all that we have right now. Our past becomes something that brought us to all the things we are grateful for today, so there is no need to waste energy on what could have been different. Our future becomes an opportunity to greet whatever blessings or challenges come our way with a grateful heart so there is no need to fear what may be. With gratitude we can settle into the present moment to see and enjoy what is happening right now.
A sense of gratitude is something that can take time to develop and there is no better time than the holidays to devote some extra energy to this practice. Below are some simple ways to encourage appreciation and expand the capacity for gratitude during all times of life.
- Find time each day to pause and ask what it is that you are grateful for. You can do this activity on your own by writing the items in a gratitude journal or you can do it with a group by going around the dinner table or taking turns while together in the car and asking everyone to share what they are grateful for.
- Try to imagine losing some of the things that you can easily take for granted in life like your home, your refrigerator, the ability to walk or to hear. Then imagine how you would feel to get these things back. Recognize the gratefulness you would feel in that situation and try to feel it for those things now.
- Challenge yourself to refrain from complaining or criticizing for a week. When the week is over notice the amount of energy you previously spent on negative thoughts and actions. Move forward enjoying the room you have created for additional positive and grateful thoughts.
- If you find yourself in a difficult situation that you are struggling to see the good in, ask yourself, “When I look back on this what will I be grateful for?”
- Give yourself at least one compliment daily. Really appreciate that aspect about yourself.
- Tell others why you are grateful for them. This is wonderful to do with your kids or your partner. Not only is it another opportunity for you to express gratitude, but it is an opportunity to remind those we love what they have to be grateful for about themselves.