Thursday marks Thanksgiving in the U.S., our annual day of giving thanks for the blessings of the harvest and of the preceding year – with a little overeating and football indulgence on the side. While it’s a wonderful tradition to have a special day for giving thanks and counting our blessings, wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if we could practice cultivating gratitude year-round?
The challenge is, people aren’t hardwired to be grateful, says University of California at Davis psychologist Dr. Robert Emmons, author of “Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.” Like any skill worth having, Dr. Emmons believes gratitude requires practice. He also believes the benefits of practicing gratitude can be life altering by strengthening relationships, improving health, reducing stress and depression, and, in general, creating happiness. Here are some of his tips for becoming a more grateful person:
1. Notice your day-to-day world from a point of gratitude and be amazed at all the goodness – and good people – you take for granted.
2. Keep a gratitude journal. All it requires is noting one or more things you’re grateful for on a daily basis. No fancy notebook or computer program required.
3. Gratitude requires humility. Explore where it fits in your life.
4. Give at least one compliment daily, whether directly to a person or by sharing your appreciation of something.
5. When things don’t go your way, remember that every difficulty carries within it the seeds of an equal or greater benefit. In the face of adversity ask yourself: “What’s good about this?”, “What can I learn from this?”, and “How can I benefit from this?”
6. Vow to not complain, criticize, or gossip for a week. If you slip, rally your willpower and keep going. You might be surprised at how much energy you were spending on negative thoughts.
7. Imagine losing some of the things you take for granted, such as your home, your ability to see or hear or walk, or anything that currently gives you comfort. Then imagine getting each of these things back, one by one, and consider how grateful you would be for each and every one.
8. Start finding joy in the small things instead of holding out for big achievements like getting the promotion, saving up a comfortable nest egg, getting married, having the baby, and so on before allowing yourself to feel happy.
According to Dr. Emmons, gratitude shouldn’t be a once-a-year experience or just a reaction to getting what you want, but an attitude of living your life as if everything were a miracle – and being aware on a continuous basis of how much you’ve been given. So start bringing thankfulness to your daily experiences today, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a master of gratitude. Personally, I am grateful for all of you and wish you a happy Thanksgiving!