‘Tis the season, and again we find ourselves spiraling headlong into the hubbub of the holidays. Oftentimes, instead of looking forward to all the festivities, we feel stressed-out and resentful about the seemingly endless obligations and pressures to create the perfect holiday.
But before you get pulled too far into the fray this year, stop, take a step back and do a mental shift. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to remind yourself of what is truly wonderful about the holidays – and year-round. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” will put you in a mindset that will not only benefit you during the holidays, but into the new year and beyond.
“Gratitude (noun) – the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
The many benefits of gratitude
Research has shown that the practice of gratitude bestows many mental and physical benefits. The positive thoughts and emotions associated with gratitude manifest into positive effects in the body, mind and spirit.
Practicing gratitude is believed to rewire the brain, promoting long-term health benefits over time. Gratitude lights up the brain’s reward centers. It is associated with parts of the brain that promote feel-good emotions and neurotransmitters that put the body into a relaxed parasympathetic state, which is our “rest and digest” state. This is in contrast to our sympathetic “fight, flight or freeze” state that we associate with increased cortisol levels and feeling stressed out.
People who practice gratitude feel more optimism, joy and pleasure. They feel more social bonding and experience a boost in their relationships. They are better able to attain their goals. They also feel less anxiety and depression, and feel less lonely and isolated.
The physical benefits are just as pronounced. People who practice gratitude experience improved sleep, and lower stress levels. They have a strengthened immune response, with fewer symptoms of illness. They also have lower pain levels.
How to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude”
Transition yourself into the mindset of gratitude by starting to retrain your brain. There are many ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
- See situations in a new light. A seemingly mundane situation can foster feelings of gratitude when looked at in a new way.
- Actively pay attention to all the positive things happening around you, and pause to acknowledge them. This will train your brain to regularly pick up on these cues.
- Use all of your senses to cultivate gratitude. What do you see, hear, feel, smell and taste?
- Remember some tough times in your life and acknowledge how things are better now.
- Always acknowledge the positive actions taken by others for your benefit, such as someone offering you their seat, letting you go first in line, giving you a smile, or providing good service.
- Notice the little things that you’re grateful for, such as someone holding the door for you, the bus being on time, birds chirping, your kid making their bed, not having to wait in line, a warm fuzzy blanket and a cup of tea.
- Be grateful for negative experiences that you have avoided – for example, avoiding a construction zone on the drive to work, or remembering to take the cookies out of the oven before they burn.
- Remember to include yourself in those things you are grateful for. Maybe you had a great work-out today, or you supported a sad friend, or you finished a project at work. Gratitude extends to all the good things you do too!
- Be specific about the things you’re grateful for. For example, instead of saying you’re grateful for your friends, say you’re thankful for your friend Eliza, who brought you chicken soup when you were sick.
- Focus on thinking on a deeper level about one or two things you’re grateful for, rather than several things at a high level.
- Begin to use the language of gratitude and positivity. Start to think, write and speak in terms of abundance, thanks, blessings and gifts. This pushes out negative language and reduces toxic emotions.
- Remind yourself to be grateful! Put up a sign or sticky note in your home or office that reminds you to look for things to be grateful for. This will encourage you to make gratitude an active practice.
How to express your “attitude of gratitude”
- Put it in writing. Buy a dedicated gratitude journal and make it a practice to write in it several times per week. Using the tips above, write down the positive things that have happened, the negative things that you’ve avoided, instances where people have helped and supported you, and all the good things you’ve done.
- Say thank you. Verbalize it. Write a thank you note, or say it out loud. Researchers have found that simply putting words to the thought of gratitude produces lasting benefits, even if you don’t send the note or say it directly to the person.
- Share your gratitude with others – it’s contagious! Smile, make eye contact and say thank you to friends, family and even strangers. Even if they don’t reciprocate, you’ve surrounded them and yourself with positive energy.
The benefits of gratitude take time and increase as you put the practice into place. Training the brain over time has a lasting and cumulative effect. Be mindful of practicing gratitude every day as you prepare for and celebrate the holidays. This will make your celebration lighter, happier and more heartfelt. Even better, this attitude of gratitude will carry through into the new year and forever.