Thanksgiving sneaks up fast, at least it always does for me. This year I’m determined to give it more attention. That’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of gratitude and how it can be vitally important in promoting wellness and fighting both anxiety and depression. Thanksgiving is a perfect holiday for exploring the idea of gratitude and how it can improve our lives.
How we perceive the world has a dramatic impact on our mood. This is the foundation of many types of therapy, most famously Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The philosophy is: change how you think and you’ll change how you feel. One of the big challenges is that most Americans live very deficit-focused lives. I would assert that we have been trained to over-focus on information that is critical and negative. We see what we don’t have, where we don’t measure up, and what’s wrong with us. We also tend to look for these flaws in others. Sadly, this kind of lens for seeing the world promotes serious problems like anxiety and depression. We worry about failure, of not being “good enough.” We get down about all the ways in which we just aren’t measuring up.
Think I’m exaggerating? Try a little test. Find a timer. Time yourself for each of the next two tasks. First, list 5 things you would change about yourself. Ready, go! Okay, write that time down. Now, list 5 things you feel are satisfactory about yourself. Go! Now, let’s compare the difference in how long it took to write the two lists. I’d be curious to collect some data on this, so if you do my test, send me a message. I’m guessing 98% of people take at least twice as long to complete the second task as the first, but don’t hold me to that. To quote Steven Wright, “42.7 percent of statistics are made up on the spot.”
So far this post has been a bummer, but let me share some good news: you are in charge of your thinking. Also a bonus: Thanksgiving is about recognizing what we do have and really giving this attention and appreciation. As difficult as life is for many people right now, I think it’s very important to take stock of what’s going well. It’s time to recognize the strengths of ourselves and our loved ones. In short, it’s time to develop a practice of gratitude.
Gratitude is when we inventory our emotional, social, and material riches. It’s the practice of seeing and expressing the honor of being someone with gifts. It can be the gifts of big and little things: friendship, love, support, good fortune, health, family, good values, rewarding work, a sufficient income, engaging hobbies, cool party tricks, nice hair, mad cooking skills, a winning pub trivia record or whatever. We don’t have all of these, but surely we can find a few.
Practicing gratitude is not “positive thinking,” it’s balanced thinking. It’s not denying our pain or difficulty, it’s simply also noticing and celebrating our joy and triumph. I hope that you can find gratitude in your life this season. It’s okay if it takes a while to identify. Build a gratitude mindset and it gets easier over time. Practice gratitude by:
- telling others what you appreciate about them
- reminding yourself of small daily accomplishments
- taking time to write actual thank you letters
- stopping to acknowledge someone who’s said something helpful to you
- Compiling a list of the gifts you enjoy each and every day
What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving? How can you practice gratitude?