Every year around the holidays, on bumper stickers and lawn signs, we’re reminded to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” I’m okay with that. But it struck me that seldom, if ever, do we hear any mention of keeping the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving. I think it’s time to change that.
In years past, I’ve written about the importance of having an “attitude of gratitude” and how giving thanks should be part of your Thanksgiving Day ritual. And recently, it was again brought to my attention just how important the positive attributes of gratitude can be.
In our daily lives, we too often dwell on the negative.
In Build the Life You Want, author and scholar Arthur C. Brooks explains that humans have what’s called “negativity bias.” He explains that we have “a tendency to focus on negative information far more than positive information.” It’s something that’s hard-wired into our brains, back from the days when if criticism was ignored, we could be cast out of our tribe or social group. But the real problem, according to Brooks, is this:
People are terrible at discriminating between negative information that matters and that which doesn’t. Emotionally, you get the same feeling from a person who insults you in traffic (which doesn’t matter) as you do from a letter from the IRS (which can matter a lot.)
To fix this, we need to turn down the “sensitivity” of our negative bias so we can “see the difference between negative signals and pay attention only to the very few that matter.” And the very best way to “turn down the noise” is to occupy some of the negativity we face, “with a different, positive feeling.” That feeling is gratitude.
Brooks calls gratitude “a life practice” and something we should engage in every day. Because when we take the time to appreciate and give thanks for all the good we have in our lives, a funny thing happens: Any negativity we face is dramatically diminished. And there’s scientific studies that back this up. Brooks reports:
Gratitude can make us more resilient, and enhance relationships by strengthening romantic ties, bolstering friendships, and creating family bonds that endure during times of crisis. It also improves many health indicators, such as blood pressure and diet.
Gratitude makes you a better and even healthier person. Studies also show that “gratitude can make us more generous with others, more patient, and less materialistic.” As the Lakota Indian artist Doug Good Feather points out:
The simple act of practicing gratitude disrupts negative thoughts and changes our mindset to see the world in a positive way.
Not sure what to be thankful for? Here are some ideas.
Start by making a gratitude list. It’s something you might want to write in a journal or notepad. Brooks suggests considering things like “kindness and love from others.” You might also “focus on the friendships you hold most dear, having a job you enjoy, or that fact that you are in good health.” Just thinking of these things can help put you in a happier frame of mind.
There’s nothing too trivial or silly to be thankful for. Your list might include the love you have for a pet cat or dog, the way the morning sun bursts through your kitchen window, or that first cup of coffee on chilly autumn morning. Brooks recommends we update our gratitude list at least once a week, to help keep it top-of-mind.
Gratitude is a spiritual practice and much like committing to a fitness routine, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Kristin Nelson, of the Center for Action and Contemplation, calls gratitude “a muscle we need to build and use.” So maybe gratitude is something we should tend to several times a week, like a morning jog or any activity we do on a regular basis.
Still not sure what to be thankful for?
At the Change Your Attitude, Change Your Life (CYACYL) blog, in a post titled Count Your Blessings, Joan Herrmann writes of an activity she undertook that’s sure to ratchet up the gratitude meter a notch or two. She visited a local food pantry. Here’s her story:
I boxed up nonperishable items and went to a local church, which distributes food to families in need. When I arrived, I could not believe the line of people waiting to receive the basic items that most of us take for granted. Witnessing that truly humbled me. When I got home, all of the things about which I constantly worry, didn’t seem so important. I thought: “There but for the grace of God go I.” At any moment I could be in that situation. I was thankful I wasn’t. Then, I thought about all the people and things that I seldom take the time to appreciate. I was overcome with emotion.
Sometimes we need to look around us to appreciate all we have. Hermann believes that “with gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. As a result, gratitude helps us connect to something larger than ourselves.” And when we make that connection to the greater Good, we naturally start feeling better about ourselves and our place in the world around us.
As Bob Violino calls out in a blog post titled Embracing Gratitude, “Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on the things for which we are grateful, a time to rejoice in what we have. But isn’t being thankful something we should be doing on a regular basis, even every day?” Bob has got it right. It’s time for all of us to get our gratitude on—and there’s no better time to start than today.