Let’s face it: 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone. Between social distancing, canceled events, economic uncertainty, and a myriad of other troubles, it might feel challenging to be thankful this year. But practicing gratitude is incredibly important, particularly in years that feel bleak. As we approach Thanksgiving, here are a few ways to count your blessings.
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is a close relative of appreciation and thankfulness. But scientists have found it’s more than just saying “thank you” when someone hands you a gift or does something nice. Instead, gratitude is a measurable emotion, a deeper appreciation of what and who you have in your life. It’s the recognition of everything that makes your life good, or an appreciation for the lessons you’ve learned from the not-so-good.
Most importantly, gratitude is a psychological state of mind that allows us to live happier, fuller lives.
Why Gratitude Matters
Studies show a variety of benefits for grateful people. Focusing on the positives in your life not only has psychological benefits, but it can also positively impact your health and your relationships.
Emotional and Psychological Benefits
Focusing on the good literally changes your brain, according to some studies. According to one study, brain scans of those who began practicing gratitude showed changes in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with decision making and learning. That is, intentionally focusing on the good trains our brains to notice more of the good.
Secondly, numerous studies prove that practicing gratitude can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. In addition, gratitude can help us reduce “toxic emotions” like envy, greed, resentment, and regret.
Physical Health Benefits
Grateful people experience multiple physical benefits, too. Those who practice gratitude often report less physical pain, better sleep, lower cholesterol levels, and less stress. One study found that cardiac patients who practiced daily gratitude after a cardiac event had healthier hearts than those who did not. Furthermore, a study out of UC-Davis revealed that grateful people have less inflammation, helping prevent heart disease.
So, being thankful isn’t just about being happy. It’s also about being healthy.
Social and Relational Benefits
Gratitude can also positively impact your relationships and social interactions. Studies found that grateful people generally have a more positive mood, are more generous, and are less likely to retaliate against others. It can help create new relationships and better maintain existing relationships, potentially leading to increased professional and personal interactions.
How to Practice Gratitude During the Holidays
There are many ways to “practice gratitude.” While daily thankfulness is the best way to create lasting change, even occasional practice has a positive impact.
The holidays are a perfect time to start putting these methods into action, but you can try them any time of the year:
- Keep a gratitude journal
This might be as simple as making a note on your mobile phone about one good thing that happened each day or writing several sentences about what you’re thankful for in your job or at home.
- Acknowledge others
Gratitude isn’t just about ourselves. It’s about looking outward, acknowledging those who make our lives better. You can practice gratitude towards others by writing thank-you cards, sending appreciation texts or emails, or simply taking a few extra seconds to say a heartfelt “thank you” to a helpful stranger.
- Gratitude walk
What better way to combine the health effects of thankfulness with physical exercise? Take a walk, and use that time to intentionally focus on everything you’re grateful for in your life. Taking a time out from work and home obligations is a great way to focus your mind on what really matters.
These suggestions are just the start. Find other gratitude practices here, or come up with your own!
Make Thankfulness a Year-Round Habit
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to begin practicing daily gratitude, but you’ll get the most benefits when you continue being thankful throughout the year. Instead of making Thanksgiving a day, make it a habit.
In a year when everything seems so hard, take some time to remember the people and things you’re thankful for. At WinningAgent, we’re grateful for you: our readers, clients, and friends. May your holidays be filled with all things good, and may you take the time to notice them all.