Every year we gather around a table with our family, friends, and a roasted turkey to celebrate. But what are we celebrating? We’ve all heard some version of a historically inaccurate story about pilgrims and Native Americans, but a lot of times we seem to miss out on the thanks part of Thanksgiving. We may go around the table and say what we’re thankful for, but do we really sit down and spend a moment sitting in gratitude?
For most of us, the answer is no. The day that’s set aside for “giving thanks” is usually overshadowed by turkey and family drama, and the rest of the year we have too little time and too much to do. So when do we make time for gratitude? We should be making time for it every day.
Gratitude Makes Us Happier
Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, psychologists with the University of California and the University of Miami, performed a study that measured the impact of weekly gratitude on people’s lives. In their study, they had participants assigned to three groups, each of which tracked different conditions in a journal. One group tracked things they were grateful for, one tracked their daily hassles, and one just tracked the events in their week. In addition to tracking these conditions, the participants also tracked various aspects of their wellbeing. After the ten weeks, those tracking gratitude felt more optimistic and had fewer physical symptoms than those in the other two groups.
We focus on negative things by nature – we evolved to survive, and negative emotions are our body’s warning system. Fear tells us to avoid danger, anger is a response to competition for resources, and sadness is a reaction to losing (or straining) relationships within our herd. We don’t need to fight or hunt to survive anymore, but that warning system is still functioning, and the fast-paced world surrounding us sets it off at record frequency.
Gratitude balances those emotions out – it’s a positive reaction that builds bonds between people. When we set aside time to be grateful, we redirect our thoughts towards sources of positive, uplifting feelings. By focusing on the positives in life, we can better appreciate both types of emotions and their place in our lives.
Make Time for Gratitude
If you’re ready to give gratitude a place in your life, then there’s no better time to start than Thanksgiving. You can show gratitude every day simply by observing and recognizing the good things that happen as they happen. A more involved way to show gratitude is keeping a gratitude journal. Before bed each night, write down the gifts, blessings, and good fortune you’ve received throughout the day.
Find a way to show gratitude that works for you. It may feel strange or even silly at first, but with time, gratitude will become a state of mind. It might even make that list of things you’re grateful for.