Thanksgiving is approaching, but marketers are already trying to get our minds past our gratitude and on to our greed – which they hope will fuel our spending on Black Friday. Rather than rushing past the holiday of reflection on the meaningful parts of our lives, perhaps we should expand such introspection beyond once a year. Recent studies in psychology would support such a move, pointing to a list of ways gratitude improves general health and wellness, across physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions.
Action is the key to a thankful life and all its associated richness. Despite the two words’ related meanings, prevailing wisdom holds that we feel thankful, but show or express gratitude. John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” By way of example, the Puritans could have simply mentioned their appreciation for an autumn harvest and assistance from Native American friends. Instead, they invited their allies to join them for an elaborate meal that celebrated their thankfulness – the symbolic meal we share each November.
Two practical ways we can be thankful and show gratitude involve writing. In a clinical setting, one tool psychologists use is powerful and surprisingly simple: keep a journal. Listing several things each day for which you are grateful can affect your mood, outlook, quality of sleep and overall happiness. It can be as basic as a few sentences, and since it’s personal to you, there is nothing too insignificant to list.
A way we can express gratitude is a hand-written thank you card. With immediate digital gratification available from Tweets and text messages, taking the time to put words to paper is rare, and the impact is great. A card with a straightforward and sincere message with what you appreciate and why, is far more likely than an email to find its way onto a refrigerator.
With so many good things in life – and even through the tougher times – our outlook is a choice. And it’s a choice that benefits us and those in our lives. Melody Beattie may have said it best: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more…It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”