An Attitude of Gratitude
As Thanksgiving approaches, most people are rushing around preparing for the coming holiday. Even if the history behind Thanksgiving is largely ignored, it is still a holiday that celebrates gratitude. When we focus on things we are grateful for, and we contemplate the feeling of gratitude, we flood our bodies with feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Aside from the positive effect this cascade of hormones has on our physical well being, it also gives us a heightened sense of connectedness to those around us and to our world. Depression seems to lift more readily, and anxiety calms. But, this kind of beneficial effect of gratitude does take repetition and a bit of practice.
When the brain feels gratitude, the parts of the brain that are activated include the ventral and dorsal medial pre-frontal cortex. These areas are involved in feelings of reward, morality, interpersonal bonding and positive social interactions, and the ability to understand what other people are thinking or feeling. These are all benefits that most of us enjoy without realizing that they are occurring. Thanksgiving is a time of the year that most often brings us together with our families and loved ones and reconnects us to the things we do cherish and are grateful for. The holiday unto itself gives us a chance to pause and contemplate those things that bring meaning and significance into our lives. It is the perfect “excuse” to practice thankfulness and gratitude.
In order to carry the attitude of gratitude into our daily lives, there are a few exercises that can keep us connected to the things we appreciate and are grateful for. One such exercise is doing short daily meditations of 5 to 10 minutes a day, focusing on one thing per day that we are grateful for. For example, Sally cherishes her friendship to Laura. Laura stood by Sally through many of life’s challenges. Sally decides to give herself a 10 minute pause in her lunch break to quietly sit and give thanks by focusing on her friend and the goodness that relationship has brought into her life.
Another exercise is to write letters expressing appreciation or gratitude for someone or something that has had a positive effect on our life. Jerry was struggling with depression when one of his best friends, Jamie, was in trouble with addiction. Jamie called on Jerry and asked him to help him through the difficult time he was facing. This request for help gave Jerry a sense of purpose and, not only did he help his friend, but he also found his way, through service, and out of his depressed state. Jerry wrote a letter to Jamie expressing his appreciation and thanks for allowing him to not only help him, but to also help himself. Writing the letter to Jamie gave Jerry a renewed sense of purpose and gratitude for Jamie (who helped Jerry through his own dilemma without knowing it).
There are limitless things we can be grateful for: good health, a lucky day at the races, a warm, sunny day, a call from a friend, hearing a great song on the radio, and the list goes on.
A great deal of feeling grateful lies within our perspective and how we frame the world. If we look at the world with wonder, the world will seem wonder-full. Being grateful expresses the appreciation for those special things we notice about life that make life beautiful.
So, this Thanksgiving, hopefully you will be surrounded by friends and family to share in a day of thanks and togetherness. In that day, or those leading up to it, give yourself some moments of peace in which you can feel gratitude for the people, moments and blessings you experience. It will not only shed light on the things that you are grateful for, but it will make those things more significant. The added bonus is the boost to your feel-good hormones that will make the day even more enjoyable.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and may you enjoy a wonderful and wonder-full Thanksgiving.