Thanksgiving – whatever its historic origin, the last Thursday in November has evolved to be a time of year where people pause and ask themselves what they are grateful for. It is a time where gratitude is felt and expressed. In honor of this day of giving and receiving thanks, Amy Drucker, LMFT, highlights the importance and benefits of the practice of gratitude – today and every day of the year.
Research over the last decade has shown the positive psychological, social and physical benefits of practicing gratitude. One such notable study, conducted by Robert Emmons at UC Davis, highlights that grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth, are more resilient, are more able to be present in their lives, and are able to actually minimize toxic and negative emotions by more deeply defining the neural pathways of positive thought.
So the question is: how does one practice gratitude?
Some simple, helpful suggestions are to do one or both of the following:
- Create a daily gratitude list in a journal or notebook. When waking in the morning or before retiring at night, write down in list form what you are grateful for. It is encouraged that one be specific in this endeavor. Instead of “I am grateful for sunsets,” maybe consider “I am grateful for the way the sky turns pastel and the clouds seem to glow when then sun is setting.” Instead of “I am grateful for my dog,” consider “I am grateful that I have a furry companion that I can come home to and who always greets me with a wagging tail.” Write as many or a few as you like, but if you are on a roll, keep writing!
- During or in the wake of a challenging day, play The Gratitude Game. Say you missed your train by 10 seconds; your lunch order was wrong; and you got locked out of your apartment. The aim of the game is to find the silver lining. For every “complaint,” find the inverse. The Gratitude Game, using the above example might go like this: I live in a city where public transportation exists and I am able to save money by taking it. I have the ability to pay for meals and nourish myself with food. I live in an apartment building and have a roof over my head every night. Even if you have only one frustrating event take place in your day, The Gratitude Game can still be played!
Both of the above may feel goofy or contrived, even entirely pointless at first, but give yourself a chance to reap the benefits of sowing gratitude in your life.
It goes without saying that things can certainly be challenging at holiday time, too. Holidays have a way of being an organic, annual mile marker that can create a constellation of less pleasant emotions. People may feel sadness, nostalgia or isolation during the holiday season; thus, the benefits of practicing gratitude could be exceptionally helpful in insulating against some of these more painful emotions that spike during this time of year.
The goal of practicing gratitude is not to facilitate Pollyannaism, nor is it to negate the spectrum of emotions that human beings experience on a given day, or at a given time of year. The goal of practicing gratitude might instead be thought of as a way to create (and add to) a constantly simmering stew of appreciation for one’s life and how one views that life — when times are tough, one can siphon from that bubbling stew and find strength and hope; when times are good, one can share that hearty stew and help nourish those around them.
Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers to a grateful Holiday Season and year!
Amy Drucker, LMFT, is a clinical staff therapist at The Family Institute. Her approach is solution-focused, strength-based, mindful, and collaborative. She sees clients predominantly out of The Family Institute’s downtown location and enjoys working with individuals and couples seeking support around communication, raising self-awareness, addiction and recovery, and life transitions.
The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our services.