Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year because it reminds us to give thanks and to count our blessings. Suddenly, so many things become so little when we realize how blessed and lucky we are.Joyoce Giraud, Puerto Rican Actress
Here we are, right on the precipice of Thanksgiving and the holiday season, with our green curlicue Grinch slippers barely hanging over the edge. This year more than ever, it can be difficult to muster the extra effort and energy required for holiday events and traditions because the weight of 2020 is as heavy as a big, red, velvety bag of coal slung over our shoulder. How do we meaningfully and effectively unpack a year like 2020?
Personally, it’s been a crazy year full of more downs than ups. Yet there’s no reason to count all of the challenging and negative ways why 2020 won’t be on my Top 10 list as I look back on life. Still, I am grateful for life itself when so many others are sick and suffering. I have my health, a great set of friends who provide laughter and love. The past several months have enabled me to reinvent myself, learn new skills for my personal and professional life, and have introduced me to new people I now count as friends. I am grateful.
Gratitude. There are many ways to practice gratitude—some that you may not have even thought of before. Though feeling grateful is also beneficial, practicing gratitude is intentional. Some of the benefits may surprise you. According to the Harvard Business Journal, when we practice gratitude, “our brain releases dopamine and seratonin, two hormones that make us feel lighter and happier inside.” Gratitude generates positive emotions where we feel more physically vibrant and energetic, sleep better, demonstrate more compassion and kindness to others, and it even boosts our immune system. Who couldn’t use a little of that in the throes of a pandemic? Here are eight ways to get you some of that!
Intentionally increase your awareness of the acts of kindness you witness or read about. Allow stories of compassion to stir you and inspire you to look for opportunities to share the love yourself! When someone does something thoughtful for you—especially in the little things—notice their gesture. Then express your gratitude. Acknowledgement will inspire you. Affirmation will energize them.
This is one of those fabulous ideas that I always want to get in on in January, then procrastinate and forget about. Inevitably, come December, I wish I had a jar full of gratefulness to read and reminisce about. Let’s do it! Get a mason jar or any container and be as creative as you like to decorate it. Throughout 2021, drop short notes of things or events you are grateful for into the jar—aim to do it weekly. Get your family involved—or if you are back in the office, get your peers to participate with you. Next December, you can dedicate a special time to remembering the blessings that affected you all year long.
Whether noticing a moment to yourself or sharing it with someone else, be specific. Anyone can roll out a standard list of things they are thankful for, like their family, their home, or their meal. But being specific will really engage your mind and heart to tap into deep joy and thankfulness. And when specifically delivering a word of gratitude to someone else, they are likely to be genuinely impacted by the details of your appreciation.
A gratitude journal is not a new idea, but it’s definitely one that doesn’t work unless you actually do it. Try to write even one or two lines daily to generate gratitude from your day. Just the intentional act of writing it down will stir a sense of gratitude that will help you tap into the benefits above!
Get into the habit of saying “thank you.” Add words of kindness to your daily vocabulary. If it’s not something you frequently do, it may have to be conscious at first. But before long, the habit will become natural and you will be blessed and be a blessing to those you appreciate.Why is it easier to complain than to appreciate? Have you ever been around someone who constantly complains? Could that even be you? Much like expressing thankfulness, becoming aware of your vocabulary can positively impact your thought-life, your verbal communication, and your mood. Just be authentic and sincere.
Don’t avoid expressing thanksgiving because your sentiments don’t seem demonstrative enough. There’s a time and place for grand gestures. However, simple expressions like “thank you” or “wow” coming from your lips can mean the world. Try a handwritten thank you note or a simple text. Perform a random act of kindness. Even in our world of social distancing, a simple wave or nod in a grocery store or a four-way stop can convey gratitude that impacts someone’s day.
It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but one of the strongest tools to pull yourself up and out of hard times is to first acknowledge a struggle or trauma. 2020 brought us global and national events that have made individual impacts. If you lost a job this year, or a loved one, if you have struggled with grief, anxiety or depression, if your relationships have suffered, if you or someone you love has battled COVID, first acknowledge your pain. Then look for anything to be grateful for, like new beginnings, your health, your emotional survival, or someone who reached out to you. Allowing yourself to temporarily sit with bad experiences or feelings can ignite a deep and lasting sense of gratitude for the contrasting blessings that inevitably begin to grow in your heart.
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