Gratitude is associated with greater happiness, better health, and improved self-esteem. Here are some simple yet powerful ways to count your blessings.
This Thanksgiving, when people sit at the table to give thanks for their blessings, some might struggle to find the silver lining in one of the most difficult years in recent memory. The list of what not to be thankful for looms large: a global pandemic, personal and economic losses, and—let us not forget—that election, among many other setbacks.
However, being grateful is always possible, and is one of the best things you can do for yourself. In fact, research shows that gratitude is associated with greater happiness, more optimism and positive emotions, better health, better sleep, and improved self-esteem, among other benefits.
When you think about it, it makes sense: in order to feel grateful you have to look for specific things to be grateful for. And when you take the time to find these “nuggets,” you are flooded with good feelings in body, mind, and spirit. Here are some simple, yet powerful, ways to count your blessings.
Nothing Is Too Small
Take a few minutes to center and relax. Visualize or make a list of at least three things you are grateful for. The more mundane, the better. For example, your delicious morning cup of coffee, your cat’s comforting purr as you read a book, the sound of rain on your windowpane. These small pleasures are often taken for granted, yet in their apparent ordinariness, they bring pleasure and enrich our lives. And because life is made up of these moments, when you tune in to them your days will be filled with gratitude.
Widen the Circle
Now widen your circle of appreciation to include all the things in your life, however imperfect they may seem, that bring you joy or comfort: your senses, your family and friends, your talents. What can you be grateful for right now? Look around. When truly appreciated, everything, even the noisy neighbors (hey, you can hear, remember?) is a blessing.
Look for the Silver Lining
Bad times are like clouds; they eventually go away, and they have a silver lining. Make a list of, or review in your mind, all the things you have learned, enjoyed, appreciated, and gained this year, despite any hardship. Just one or two will do. Did you find inner strength you never knew you had? Did you gain a friend in the midst of adversity? Some things may not be readily apparent, but if you look for the lesson, or the opportunity they brought you, you will find the gift.
Go Ahead and Say It
Write or say “thank you” to the people or things (yes, things) you are grateful for. They don’t even need to be in your life anymore: the teacher who inspired you or the pet that kept you company in your childhood. Then turn to the present. Can you say “thank you” to your spouse for preparing dinner (even if imperfectly) or just for being there? To the helpful co-worker? How about thanking the people and things that make you laugh? Yes, those funny pet videos on YouTube count!
Keep a Record
Practicing gratitude requires placing intentional focus on the positive. This can be difficult because negative incidents tend to have a greater impact on the human brain, something psychologists refer to as negativity bias. But documenting your positive experiences by journaling, for example, to visually see all of the positives, can interrupt that trend. Find a time that works for you to write down at least five things you are thankful for every day. Again, even the most mundane things, the ones we often take for granted, count. Reading this will be very helpful on the days when you can’t think of anything in your life that makes you grateful.
Accentuate the Positive
Don’t forget that gratitude includes self-appreciation, so if you don’t like the circumstances that you find yourself in at the moment, try saying thanks for the things about yourself that you like. Say thank you to your eyes, your IQ, your smile, your talent for decorating, or the legs (or conveyance) that take you places. Remember: Nothing needs to be perfect. Focus on the positive.
Look for Wonder
Psychologist Kirk Schneider, who authored the book “Awakening to Awe” wrote:
“Awe is the sense of amazement (humility and wonder) before the mystery of life… Awe is not just a cheap thrill, or a stunned helplessness; it is an appreciation of the whole of life—the fragile as well as the exalting. Awe inspires us to see through the pettiness of life, and connects us to the grand picture, the ‘great adventure;’ and this adventure has remarkable potential to lift us, to heal us, and to give our lives meaning.”
Finally, as you practice these simple steps to thankfulness, remember the words of the German theologian, philosopher, and mystic Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”