Besides sharing time with family and friends over food, the primary ingredient of the American Thanksgiving holiday is gratitude. While it’s certainly good to have an annual holiday to remind us to express gratitude, there’s much to be said for the benefits of cultivating the spirit of thankfulness year round.
People who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions, and are better able to reach their goals. Scientists have even noted that gratitude is associated with improved health.
Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals—whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
Cultivating a sense of gratitude will help you refocus your attention toward what’s good and right in your life, rather than dwelling on the negatives and all the things you may feel are lacking. And, like a muscle, this mental state can be strengthened with practice. Ways to cultivate a sense of gratitude include:
Keep a Gratitude Journal or list, where you actively write down exactly what you’re grateful for each day. In one study, people who kept a gratitude journal reported exercising more, and they had fewer visits to the doctor compared to those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Write Thank You Notes Whether in response to a gift or kind act, or simply as a show of gratitude for someone being in your life, getting into the habit of writing thank you letters can help you express gratitude in addition to simply feeling it inside.
Count Your Blessings Once a week, reflect on events for which you are grateful, and write them down. As you do, feel the sensations of happiness and thankfulness you felt at the time it happened, going over it again in your mind.
Pray Expressing thanks during your prayers is another way to cultivate gratitude.
Mindfulness Meditation Practicing “mindfulness” means that you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now. Focus on something that you’re grateful for, such as a pleasant smell, a cool breeze, or a lovely memory.