November is the month commonly associated with the holiday Thanksgiving, a time of year when we’re accustomed to hearing the question “what are you grateful for?” What typically follows is a list of the usual categories such as friends, family, and our basic necessities. While some may find it easy to see what there is to be grateful for, others may find it difficult especially in the face of life challenges. Further more, recognizing our fortunes intellectually and in broad strokes, does not necessarily produce the desired state of feeling deep appreciation.
Gratitude is not merely a positive response to positive circumstances, but rather an orientation or opportunity to find the good in both positive and negative situations.
Most of us can probably agree that it’s easier to feel grateful for landing that cushy new job, than it is to appreciate the hard lessons following a failure, loss, or catastrophic event. But, we can make a deliberate choice to shift our perspective and start enjoying the benefits of a regular gratitude practice. Research collected by UC Berkeley has shown that incorporating gratitude into our daily lives has been associated with many positive outcomes including:
- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
- Higher levels of positive emotions such as joy and optimism
- Acting with more generosity and compassion
- Reduced sense of loneliness and isolation
- Increased brain processing, resiliency, and recovery after traumatic events
- Greater sense of purpose
There are countless ways to facilitate our expressions of gratitude ranging from creating a gratitude jar to writing a thank you letter to an important person in your life (For more ideas, simply google it!). But today, we’re going to share a few tips that will enhance your experience of finding gratitude in your life:
- Be specific – You can be grateful for just about anything – the view of the sunset on your commute home, your daily Starbucks fix, the song on the radio that just “gets it,” your spouse cooking dinner after a long and busy day. You may notice that your constant appreciation for warm fuzzy pajamas stems from a high priority you’ve placed in your life towards comfort, self-care, and relaxation. Specifics can help us to find clarity in our values and why. It also trains your brain to choose positive thoughts which creates optimism.
- Fill your cup – Borrowed from the quote “my cup runneth over,” identify what fulfills you. Is it game night with your friends and family? Picking up an old hobby? Meditating for 5 minutes in the morning? The famous psychiatrist Victor Frankl suggests that human beings are motivated by a “will to meaning,” that without constructing meaning and purpose to our lives we can become prone to depression and other conditions. Taking a proactive approach will ensure you’re one step closer to what you want and need in life. It also helps ward off feelings of deprivation, helplessness, or victimization when things don’t go according to plan.
- Plan to give – Giving can go beyond your annual donation to charity or company volunteer event, although these are still highly encouraged options! Giving requires us to see what we HAVE in order to offer it, including both our internal and external resources. Perhaps you’re a great listener and set aside time for a friend date each week. Having a good day? Share a smile. Think about how to best give based on your passions and talents, and determine how to express these gifts freely. And a nice perk? Studies show that the more people give and connect (with healthy boundaries, of course!), the more others are inclined to reciprocate.