Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.
– Henri Frederic Amiel
As we approach the US holiday of Thanksgiving, gratitude is top of mind, but this is a feeling and a practice with benefits that go well beyond festive gatherings. Thoughts and acts that focus on gratitude have demonstrably positive effects in reducing emotional exhaustion, reducing stress, improving health and building higher levels of joy, optimism and happiness.
An internal practice of gratitude (remembering something you are grateful for), as well as externally visible acts of gratitude, such as writing a thank-you note or saying to someone, “I’m grateful for … ” have significant benefits. There is a great review of the science of gratitude here, and another one here.
Gratitude in practice
There are many things you can do as a practice of gratitude. Such as:
Internal gratitude practices
- Journal each day about something for which you are grateful
- Three good things — make a habit of writing down three good things that happened to you each day (and, yes, there’s an app for that)
- Meditate or pray with a focus on what you are grateful for
- Thank someone mentally for something they have done for you
- Remember a “Cloud 9” experience — something wonderful that happened to you
- Think about something that inspired you to feel awe
External gratitude practices
- Write a thank-you note to someone who has done something amazing for you
- Say thank-you in person to someone each day
- Pay it forward — buy a cup of coffee for someone behind you in the line at your favorite coffee shop
Practice saying “I am grateful for …” at least once a day as part of a routine conversation
Weaving gratitude into your life
Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart. – Larissa Gomez
The practices I’ve described above may not come naturally to you. They don’t for many of us. But choosing one or two of them and working to foster those behaviors as a habit can make a big difference. And if you want the benefits of gratitude, it’s going to have to become a commitment that lasts beyond this week’s turkey dinner (or whatever else you’re having as a celebratory meal).
So choose your gratitude practice, and commit to 21 days straight. Why 21? It takes 21 days to instill a new habit behavior, and 90 days to “hardwire” it as a part of your lifestyle. This is known as the “21/90 rule.” In your first three weeks, make note of what changes you experience in yourself and those around you, and then decide if you can (or want to) make the 90-day commitment to instill gratitude as a permanent habit in your life.
And you might even have a conversation around the holiday table about what you plan to do to practice gratitude. It could be a great alternative to those political or religious conversations you are afraid will come up.
I wish for you and your family a delightful “gratitude holiday” and would love to hear more from you about how you practice (or plan to practice) gratitude.