Cultivating Gratitude: Thanksgiving and Beyond

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends!

What a wonderful time to share in a celebration of gratitude with family, friends, some delicious food, and of course, a healthy amount of wine. And while I love the celebration of this day (it’s  my favorite holiday!!) and what it signifies, I’m a huge proponent of cultivating gratitude each and every day.

What is so wonderful about gratitude? Not only do I find myself happier and more optimistic when I practice gratitude in my everyday life, but the there are a number of ways it is actually scientifically proven to benefit one’s psyche and mental health. We especially enjoyed this article by the Huffington Post about the numerous ways the practice of gratitude can positively benefit your life. 

To help you with the practice of cultivating gratitude each day in small, meaningful ways, I have curated a list of suggestions and ideas that can be used as a starting point for your own gratitude practice. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions for others in the comments below.

Keep a journal. About two years ago I gifted myself with a small journal that asks for only a line a day, with spaces for the next five years. I’ve found it’s not only a great way to hold myself accountable to write a bit each day, but it also allows me time to tune in to that inner-voice, the one that is indicative of the person I am and the person I am becoming. Reflect on specifics when taking the time to write out your thoughts. Rather than a generic “I am so grateful for my best friend,” comment on a specific memory that brought the two of you closer “Krystal and I talked in accents for the entirety of the walk home, I feel lucky to have a person like her I can be a total goof with.”

Write thank you letters. We all know the drill. Receive a gift from your grandmother? Follow-up with a personalized thank you card. The same idea, I believe, is important for gratitude towards experiences and opportunities with others. Grateful for a networking opportunity? Follow-up with a personalized email. A fellow employee leaves your company? Hand write a personalized letter, reflecting on the time you shared together and the meaning that you gathered from knowing her. Thank you notes are a special gift, and can bring people closer. I treasure all of mine, keeping them on hand in case I’m having a bad day or need a bit of a confidence booster.

Exercise regularly and meditate. Different days call for different exercise regimens. On days I am feeling particularly stressed or agitated, sometimes a high-intensity cardio workout does the trick. Other days, I particularly enjoy a good yoga session, finding balance through reflective breathing and a long savasana. Take the time to tune into your body and what it needs. The physical activity actually helps center ourselves and leads to more conscious and reflective mental thought.   

Don’t lose your perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in the struggles and triumphs of our lives. When something goes wrong, like being passed over for a job, we tend to let it affect us deeply. Maybe we even allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity for a day. It’s important, however, to take a moment to put this event into the perspective of a bigger picture, a picture that goes beyond ourselves. Sure, you spilled coffee all over your laptop and a tire busted on your car, but you are lucky enough to own a laptop, and a car, and to live in a safe and healthy space and to have enough food to eat. Mishaps are troubling and we are allowed to feel unhappy, but we must refuse to let the mishaps define us or stick with us. Remember all that you have to feel grateful for in your life and be mindful enough to know that setbacks are not permanent. Think about what you’ve been given and endeavor to pass it on to others.  

Immerse yourself in uncomfortable experiences. Volunteer at a new place, take the time to talk to a friend about a difficult situation, practice a new language. Sometimes when we operate at a different vantage point, exposing ourselves to new experiences and going outside of our comfort zone allows us pause and the opportunity to reflect on the gifts in our own lives and how we can contribute these gifts to others. Only by continuously challenging ourselves in new ways can we ever create positive, lasting change in ourselves and others.  

Find the inverse of something negative in your life. Feeling stressed at work? Reflect on the gratitude that you have that resides in having a job that you love and that challenges you intellectually. Perhaps your job isn’t great, and you’re actually looking to make a big career leap. Reflect on your ability to do that and the support system that will back you in this transition. Sometimes taking the time to think about a situation in your life that may not be ideal allows us insight into the beauty of the bigger situation that may be right in front of us.

Now go enjoy this holiday with your friends and family, stuff your face with turkey (or if you’re Katie, a head of roasted cauliflower) and take some time to thank each person you’re celebrating with for something you appreciate about him or her and the impact on your life.

Cheers to being grateful, today and every day!