Handing out words of praise, and performing random acts of kindness, can truly change the tone of your entire day. Research (and common sense) suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift the spirits, and it’s built right into the holiday — being grateful.
Just because we are over age 50 does not mean we understand what being grateful is all about. With gratitude, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives. Being grateful also helps us connect to something larger than ourselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. One of the most powerful ways to rewire our brains for happiness and more peace is to focus on gratitude.
There are a wealth of studies that show how being grateful goes hand-in-hand with life contentment, joy, health/well-being, and positivity. Gratitude helps us to refocus on what we have instead of what we lack. And although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.
Here are several ways to help you become a more grateful person:
Express gratitude. The expression of gratitude—giving voice to it—also tends to predict greater happiness. The University of New South Whales found when people heard someone express gratitude, they were more likely to conclude they could form a meaningful relationship with the person. When you’re surrounded by positive people, your self-esteem grows, and you’re in a constant feedback loop of excitement, inspiration, and energy.
Cultivate gratitude. You can cultivate gratitude and happiness by consciously focusing on being appreciative of what you have. In addition, the more you express gratitude—through reminding yourself of all you can appreciate, the more happiness you’ll feel. Gratitude contributes to more gratitude as well as greater happiness.
Wear a smile of gratitude. Studies show that feeling grateful and smiling can actually change the way you feel. Add to this the fact that many people instinctively smile back when they see a genuine smile on someone else’s face, and you gain double the benefits—you feel better yourself, and you are surrounded by a world of smiling, happy people. Smiling when thinking about all you have to be grateful for makes you focus on positive, loving feelings toward self, and branches out from there.
Be grateful for your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
Use prayer to fuel gratitude. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, giving thanks is at the center of our hearts and minds. But pausing to give thanks for our blessings should be practiced throughout the year. Giving thanks refuels our minds, lifts our spirits, and reminds us of our creator’s ultimate sovereignty.
Plan a gratitude visit. How many people have shown you kindness in your life—kindness that has changed your circumstances, given you something important when you needed it, or helped you in some way? When was the last time you told one of these people how much you appreciated them? Writing a letter of gratitude and delivering it—what positive psychologists refer to as a “gratitude letter” and “gratitude visit”—can bring positive feelings to the people you appreciate and even more positive feelings to you. It’s a big gesture that brings even bigger benefits.
Vow to practice gratitude. Research shows that making a vow to yourself to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will get done. Therefore, write your own gratitude vow, which could be as simple as “I vow to count my blessings each day,” and post it somewhere where you will be reminded of it every day.
Hard times equals gratitude. To be truly grateful in your current state, it is ultimately helpful to remember those hard times that you once experienced. Our national holiday of gratitude, Thanksgiving, was born and grew out of hard times. The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a rough winter and year.
In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times. If you begin to see that everything you have, everything you have counted on, may be taken away, it becomes much harder to take it for granted.