I know when Thanksgiving is getting close because my “Christmas” cactus starts blooming. It’s an odd plant; it does best in a cold window, thrives on neglect, and refuses to bloom if I move it. And, for some reason, it can’t wait until it’s time to come bursting forth with beautiful bright pink blossoms.
It reminds me how grateful I am for the predictable and the unexpected in my life.
I know I’ve written a lot about gratitude, but, I can’t resist embracing it this time of year.
It’s not hard to understand that showing gratitude is a powerful thing. And, there is scientific evidence that demonstrates the many personal and health benefits you receive.
For example, giving thanks on a regular basis makes us happier, strengthens our relationships, helps us sleep, and makes us more resilient (especially to criticism). It also reduces our stress, which in turn improves our overall health.
Pretty powerful benefits.
And, that’s not all. Regular acts of gratitude result in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy.
Studies that compared two groups – one that practiced regular gratitude and one that didn’t – found that people in the “gratitude groups” experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more regularly, slept better, and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.
So where can you start to step up your gratitude quotient?
Here are four proven ways:
1) Keep a gratitude journal. One study from the University of California, Davis, had a group of people keep a journal that listed five things that they felt grateful for.
The gratitude journal was brief – just one sentence for each of the five things – and done only once a week, but after two months there were significant effects. Compared with a control group, the people keeping the gratitude journal were more optimistic and felt happier. They reported fewer physical problems and spent more time working out.
2) Share your feelings. Why does gratitude do so much good? “More than any other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship,” University of Miami, Dr. Michael McCullough, says. “It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.”
3) Try it on your family. No matter how dysfunctional your family is, gratitude can still work, says Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside.
“Do one small and unobtrusive thoughtful or generous thing for each member of your family on Thanksgiving,” she advises. “Say thank you for every thoughtful or kind gesture. Express your admiration for someone’s skills or talents – wielding that kitchen knife so masterfully, for example. And truly listen, even when your grandfather is boring you again with the same World War II story.”
4) Pray. Religious individuals don’t necessarily act with more gratitude in a specific situation, but a spiritual connection can cause people to feel and act more gratefully, as demonstrated in experiments by Jo-Ann Tsang and colleagues at Baylor University.
This Thanksgiving, start a new tradition of gratitude and see the benefits for yourself.
Betty Lochner is a communication specialist, author, and professional speaker who teaches individuals and organizations how to make small changes that make huge differences in their relationships at work and home – improving morale, confidence and productivity. She is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home and 52 Communication Tips. Both are also available on Amazon.com.