Perhaps the most underrated holiday is Thanksgiving. Sandwiched between Christmas, pretty much everyone’s favorite holiday, and Halloween, perhaps the best holiday to dress up and snap some great coordinated pictures, Thanksgiving can often feel like a footnote in the ever-expanding holiday season . And yet, at its core, Thanksgiving encourages us to focus for a moment on one of the most important emotions: gratitude.
There are many studies on the benefits of gratitude. Grateful people sleep better, have better self-esteem, experience less physical pain, and better mental health. Gratitude appears to be an important antidote to anxiety, depression, and most negative emotions. People who practice gratitude are more likely to be satisfied with their life circumstances, which is a hugely important factor in mental well-being since we cannot control what life throws at us.
In my work as a professional counselor, I often talk to my clients about gratitude. Each and every one of them recognizes that it’s an important thing they want to get better at, but it seems like practicing gratitude is a constant struggle.
So, as we move through this Thanksgiving week, what are some specific ways we can incorporate gratitude into our daily lives?
Well, the first thing would be to notice the little things that you are thankful for. When we think of gratitude, we often start with the big things. We are thankful for our spouse (hopefully!), children, home, health and all the good things. But it doesn’t seem like remembering these great things to be thankful for is the best way to improve our gratitude. We are all caught up in the mundane rhythms of life and can become almost numb at how grateful we are for these great things. And let’s be honest: sometimes we’re not really thankful for these things. Sometimes our spouse hurts us deeply, our kids are annoying, or our house adds more stress to our lives because we have to constantly maintain it.
While it is good to acknowledge the big things when practicing gratitude, people who cultivate a life of gratitude find it in the small things. For example, in my attempts to practice this in my own life, I was consciously grateful for the warmth of my new winter coat and the softness of the fluffy inside. After a long day at work last week, I was exercising gratitude when, on my way from my office to my car, I saw a butterfly flying around the plants on the sidewalk. And I practice gratitude as I step outside for the first time in the morning, taking those first sniffs of almost frigid air, as it reminds me of the countless cold mornings I experienced growing up in northern Michigan .
Just as important as noticing these little moments is taking a little time to just sit with them and appreciate the experience. We can get so busy rushing from one thing to the next that we fail to appreciate those little moments. Cultivating gratitude means pausing everything we do or think about to simply appreciate the little moment we had.
The more you practice gratitude, the more you’ll find little things to be thankful for. As you go about your day today, start noticing the little things you’re grateful for and see how it changes how you feel!
Mischa McCray is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Greenwood. He can be reached at [email protected]