It’s Thanksgiving, which means we all have a chance to step back from the chaos of the daily grind and express gratitude for the many blessings of our life. The practice of gratitude has been studied by psychologists for years and this body of research shows that being grateful can increase the quality of your relationships, improve your self esteem as well as your mental and physical health, and can even help you sleep better. While most of us desire to be intentional about experiencing gratitude today (and throughout the holiday season) it is sometimes difficult to know exactly how to practice the discipline of gratitude in a practical way. Here are some practical strategies you can use to be grateful for all the blessings in your life.
1. Write down 52 things you’re grateful for
Take some time between now and the start of your work week to examine your life. Start with all the physical blessings. If you have a house, that should be on your list. If you own a car that you can drive around every day, that should be on your list. If you have food to eat, you’re ahead of the 795 million people that do not have enough food every day. After you cover all your physical blessings, move to the relational, emotional and the spiritual aspects of your life. Think of all the relationships that you have that are meaningful and put them on the list. Think of moments in your life where you have been especially engaged or felt a sense of purpose and include those experiences on your list. Finally, consider your spirituality and list all the positive experiences you have that are a result of your connection to being a part of something bigger in this world. Once you have your list of 52 blessings, randomly select one item from your list every week for the next year and verbally express gratitude for that blessing every day of the entire week. Maybe you set a reminder in your phone that highlights the blessing for the week. Or perhaps you make a note card and put it on your bathroom mirror in order to trigger gratitude each day. If you allow yourself to follow through with this process your commitment to be thankful during this holiday season will extend throughout the entire year!
2. Show other people gratitude in tangible ways
Many times, our experience of gratitude stops with an internal experience. We look around and feel a sense of contentment and thankfulness for the blessings in our life, but we never take the step to show gratitude to the people around us. Left unchecked, this internalization of our gratitude can become a narcissistic and self-centered pursuit. Basically, when we approach gratitude in this manner it helps us feel better about our life but it doesn’t do anything to change the world around us. Let’s do it differently this holiday season. Make the decision to show as many people as possible that you appreciate them in as many different ways as possible. Say thank you to the clerk that checks you out at target. Catch your teenager doing something good and complement and affirm them for a job well done. Communicate to your spouse an appreciation of a character trait that you admire and appreciate about them. Think of a fond memory you have of your childhood, share it with one of your parents, and tell them you appreciate all their investment in you over the years. Each of these personal recommendations take less than 30 seconds, but they just might dramatically impact someone’s holiday.
3. Consider gratitude as the pathway to contentment
The core of gratitude is based on being thankful for what you have. Contentment is driven by the idea that you are satisfied with all that you have. Although these two concepts are related, it is clear that gratitude is a necessary prerequisite for contentment. If we were ever going to feel truly satisfied and content with our lives, that will begin with a thankful and grateful heart. My encouragement to you this holiday season is to pursue thankfulness but to also pursue a feeling of deep contentment and satisfaction. This is vitally important because it will allow us all to avoid the stress that is so commonly associated with the holiday season. Don’t get caught in the trap of being thankful for all that you have yet desiring even more as you go forward. That’s the surest way to set yourself up with unrealistic and perfectionistic expectations about everything from the Christmas gifts you buy to the holiday parties you throw. One tangible way to engage contentment is to step back and write out a couple of sentences that can serve as your mantra for the next few weeks. Mine sounds something like this: “ I’m grateful for all the blessings that God has given me in my life and it is enough. I choose not to pursue more of anything this holiday season but to be satisfied with whatever comes next, even if it’s not perfect.” Write Your contentment mantra out and set a reminder on your phone to read it every day. My hope is that as you do this, you will experience gratitude and contentment like you’ve never known before that leads to the best holiday you can imagine. Happy Thanksgiving!