Gratitude at Thanksgiving and All Year-Long

For many of us in the United States, Thanksgiving symbolizes gratitude and a day spent reflecting on all we have to be thankful for in our lives. Unfortunately, the day after Thanksgiving, our state of gratitude can quickly disappear when someone pulls in front of us, taking the last parking space for Black Friday shopping or someone reaches over our shoulder and grabs the last (insert the latest gizmo) off the shelf after you waited in line for 8 hours before the store opened. Such an experience can leave us feeling angry for hours, casting a shadow over what started out as a positive and exciting excursion. That’s a prime example of how fleeting positive emotions are and how long-lasting negative experiences stay in our consciousness. (Excerpts from Gratitude Heals ~ A Journal for Inspiration and Guidance)    

Hands down, more people give Thanksgiving a “most” favorable rating because of the pure mindfulness of the day and the recognition of who and what we have in our lives. And, as in the excerpt above, we’re reminded of how easy it is to lose the feelings of gratitude once we’re past the holidays and begin the new year (even with the best intended resolutions.)

A study conducted a few years ago tracked “tweets” about gratitude and positive affect in the three weeks around Thanksgiving. (Positive affect - one’s tendency to experience positive emotions, interact with others and many of life’s challenges in a positive way) There was a higher level of overall well-being on Thanksgiving Day. No surprise, when researchers controlled for these same factors after Thanksgiving, tweet activity dropped, and negative affect increased.

Consider this… A search on the topic of gratitude reveals:

  • A “gratitude gap’ exists in the United States – Americans’ consider themselves grateful yet only half actually express it;
  • Expressing gratitude helps to protect marriages from adverse effects of conflict. Consistent gratitude and appreciation lessens the likelihood of marital instability;
  • People are less likely to express gratitude at work than any place else;
    • 60% never or rarely express gratitude at work;
    • 74% never or rarely express gratitude to their boss;
  • Employees who have a boss who expresses gratitude say they would feel better about themselves, 70%, and would be motivated to work harder, 81%.

Consider this… Research on the science of gratitude has become more mainstream and applicable in our personal relationships, workplaces, communities, and institutions.

According to multiple research findings, gratitude leads to better overall health and wellness and improves over time. Gratitude:

  • Fosters higher levels of positive emotions;
  • Supports greater life satisfaction, vitality, and optimism;
  • Enables more hours of sleep and better quality of sleep;
  • Fosters healthier eating habits and better self-care.

Practicing gratitude is proving to be essential in creating greater resilience and leading to such positive outcomes as:

  • Greater mental and emotional well-being;
  • Greater resilience to trauma;
  • Lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and an increased sense of purpose;
  • Lower levels of depression and stress.

Reasons enough to have a plan in place to extend your practice of gratitude well beyond the holiday celebrations. And yet…the busyness of life and 24/7 distractions are considered some of the top reasons why we’re not very good at expressing and practicing gratitude. You might find yourself thinking about expressing gratitude to a coworker or neighbor for something they did for you. And then…the text message chimes, the phone rings, or a meeting reminder pops up on your computer and that expression never happens. 

Consider this…if you start now and develop an actual gratitude practice almost anyone can achieve these benefits and sustain them all year long.

Here are some practice ideas to get you started both at home and work. Choose practice techniques that feel most natural to you and not something to put on a to-do list.

  • Keep a gratitude journal, it’s one of the most meaningful ways to practice. Journal once a week or up to three times a week. Keep a personal journal or start a shared family or workplace journal to gain practice momentum. Not into journaling – paint, sketch or draw;
  • Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has made a difference in your life, either personally or professionally. DO NOT MAIL…deliver it or call and READ it to them.
  • Write down three good things that went well in your day and describe why;
  • Find time to simply reflect on a positive emotion you felt in the last 24 hours and consider why you’re grateful for this emotion and who, if anyone, enabled you to feel this way.

There is a prescription for expressing gratitude in any of the above ideas to ensure these benefits are achieved.

Prescription for expressing gratitude:

  1. Name the person, experience or behaviors;
  2. Describe specifically how you benefited;
  3. Describe why this was meaningful to you;
  4. Describe what, if any, sacrifice may have been made on your behalf.

In closing, in a world where negativity, fear, and skepticism are at an all-time high, there remains a human need, perhaps a demand, to count your blessings, show gratitude to others, and find meaningfulness in your daily life. 

What one action will you take today to begin to create a practice of gratitude?

“Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.” –David Whyte

Linda Roszak Burton BS, BBC, ACC, is the Founder of DRW Coaching and a Certified Executive Coach. Linda is a frequent speaker on the topics of positive psychology, gratitude, and contemporary neuroscience. She is the author of Gratitude Heals ~ A Journal for Inspiration and Guidance. For more information about this article contact Linda at lburton@drwcoaching.com or call 410.707.3118