As Thanksgiving approaches, we find small reminders all around us to be thankful. Little catch phrases like “Cherish Family,” “Don’t just count your blessings – share them!” and “Give Thanks,” pop out at us from every store aisle, our neighbor’s front yard decorations, and family living room decor.
In this season, the AlphaDog husband and I find ourselves reminiscing, reminded of the blessings in our past. A year ago his family drove over 16 hours to come visit for Thanksgiving, a time that we both cherish. We are also getting excited about the new memories that we will make with friends and family this year.
I think one of the reasons our ancestors created an entire holiday to remind ourselves to be thankful is because as humans we instinctively know how powerful gratitude is to our wellbeing.
Scientists have found amazing benefits to our health that gratitude brings. People that regularly practice being thankful have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and a better response and outlook on chronic pain. Thankful people exercise more often, take better care of their health, sleep longer, and feel more energized.
Psychologically, gratefulness helps a person have more joy and pleasure, be more optimistic and happy, feel more alert and awake, and have higher levels of positive emotions. In fact, psychologist Alex Wood in 2008 showed that gratitude can decrease the frequency and duration of episodes of depression!
And as if all those reasons weren’t enough, being thankful has a HUGE impact on our social functioning and well-being. When we are grateful, we’re also more likely to help other out. We’re more generous and compassionate. We forgive easier. We’re also less isolated or lonely and more outgoing.
I am amazed time and time again that what we choose to focus on can completely change our lives! When our minds are consumed with pain and troubles, we begin to feel worse and worse. Problems seem to grow and spread to other areas of our life.
Remember that storybook as kids Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? His morning starts out a little rough, so he assumes that the day is going to be horrible. And it is!! Now imagine if Alexander would have taken a more grateful attitude to the day by remembering the good things he had. Maybe his day wouldn’t have been so difficult. All the “bad” things may still have happened (I mean honestly, no little boy likes having lima beans for dinner), but his outlook might have changed his experience.
In the same way, when we focus on the blessings in our life the goodness seems to grow. We begin to feel better, and as a result the problems seem smaller and more manageable.
Being thankful helps you to recognize the good in your life. It allows you to celebrate what you currently have. Humans adapt very quickly, to both good and bad things. So when good events happen, like a new relationship, job promotion, recent vacation, or getting married, we quickly adapt to that new good thing. It becomes old and less exciting. But thankfulness can help us remember those good things and continue to benefit from them.
For instance, we all forgot about this gem from Friends.
Now we can be thankful for it all over again!
A common misconception that I hear is that people believe they have had too much stress and trouble to be able to feel grateful. In reality, people who have gone through difficulties have an increased ability to feel grateful!
How does this make any sense?
Going through difficult times (loss of a loved one, traumatic past, high levels of stress) tests and pushes a person. Under intense pressure, a regular coal becomes a beautiful diamond. After going through rough times, people become more resilient. We may have increased confidence in our abilities to overcome difficulties.
And we also now have something to compare to. For example, I grew up in Colorado where I could gaze at the mountains everyday. Then I moved to Iowa for college. When I came home to visit, the mountains seemed that much more beautiful than they did before. What changed? They were the same, but I was different. I noticed the beauty easier because I had now lived without that beauty and could not take it for granted any longer.
When people are going through difficult times, their pain is so much greater than my mountain-missing example. And so their resulting gratefulness, if they choose, is that much greater as well.
A few years ago I went through the most trying time of my life. It was remembering the blessings in my life – my sisters and parents, my cousin and his family, my puppy, and my friends – it was remembering and being thankful for these things that helped me get through that time of depression.
All this to say: Take advantage of all the reminders this holiday to be thankful. Being thankful is the gift that keeps giving – the more you are thankful, the more your eyes open to see what there is to be thankful for.
Share this with your friends and family! (Seriously, they NEED to see Monica’s chicken-head dance again!) And now that we’ve explored all the fantastic reasons to be thankful, next week’s blog will focus on some creative ways that you can show gratitude in your life. Have a blessed one!