Cultivating Real Gratitude

Holiday season is nearly upon us. Thanksgiving is the first and potentially most contentious holiday, since it was expressly created for the purpose of being thankful.

If you struggle emotionally around the holidays, you’re certainly not alone. Giving thanks over food and drinks can be problematic for some, or maybe you are still feeling a little scarred by Thanksgiving 2015 or 2016. Cultivating a sense of individual gratitude can be a helpful practice to adopt to help deal with these stressors. Numerous recent studies have shown that being grateful can help increase feelings of well-being and decrease depression over long periods of time, even after your daily or significant gratitude practice is over.  

A great way to begin a gratitude practice is by using a gratitude journal. This can be a notebook, diary, or note on your phone in which you record the things you’re grateful for. Pick a small number of items you can conjure up daily – try starting with 3 or 5 – and commit to listing them at the same time every day. You can reflect on your day at bedtime, in the morning when you first wake up, or on your lunch break.

The things you list will probably vary from day to day, and sometimes it might be hard to come up with things you’re grateful for.  On those days, “my health,” “my friends,” and “my nice warm bed” are all good standbys you can use if the list seems thin.

At their best, gratitude journals can illuminate the things that you value, or that bring you joy that you hadn’t really noticed before. After a few weeks, try taking an inventory of what you’ve listed — do you see any themes or trends? Any individuals for whom you consistently feel grateful, or rituals that make you feel more connected to the world around you? The things that emerge might surprise you.

If you’re ready for Gratitude 2.0, you can take those inspirations and build upon them. Why not write a thank you note to the coworker who is constantly supportive, or buy a coffee for the neighbor you always talk to at the coffee shop? Gratitude is contagious, and people are more likely to behave kindly to others after someone is kind to them. And if nothing else, you’ll be very prepared as you take your turn to say what you’re grateful for at Thanksgiving dinner.

For more ideas on how to cultivate and express gratitude, consider attending our Mindfulness Group on Friday mornings.