Gratitude: It's Not Just For Thanksgiving
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Politics and Activism

Gratitude: It's Not Just For Thanksgiving

Gratitude: It's Not Just For Thanksgiving

This week, for one of my classes, we were asked to read a story about a woman and her Thanksgiving experience back in 1993. At the time, she was a single mother of a three-year-old child while eight months pregnant and relying on food stamps to get by. However, that Thanksgiving she received a surprise knock on her door. Standing before her was a delivery man with a pre-paid thanksgiving dinner for her family. She could not imagine who would do this. Years went by, she got back on her feet and eventually she learned the donor was her elderly neighbor in her apartment building whom she had never spoken to. Since that day, the woman has been hooked on giving: every day she wakes up and looks for ways in which she can help. She and her husband are constantly volunteering, and do whatever they can to give back to their community. Imagine if everyone felt this way? This is a prime example of how the power of one small act of generosity can spark a chain of kindness and touch others. However, it is not just the giving piece that is important in this story. It is the way the woman expressed her gratitude that is also impactful.

Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Gratitude is good for us because it allows us to celebrate and be in the present. It magnifies our positive emotions and allows us to reflect in the moment in which we are feeling them. Gratitude blocks our toxic or negative emotions. These are feelings of envy, jealousy, regret, and resentment. Just think about it, you cannot be jealous and grateful at the same time. Grateful people are more stress resistant. Studies show that people who are in the midst of facing adversity or trauma and show gratitude are more likely to recover quicker. Lastly, grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. This is because people who are grateful feel that someone else is looking out for them, and is noticing their well-being. All of this sounds great right? So how does one become more grateful?

There are many ways to practice gratitude, but here are just a few to get you started. One way, is to start keeping a gratitude journal; writing down at least 5 things a week for which you are grateful. This practice asks you to consciously think grateful thoughts and to not think ungrateful thoughts. Scientists think that people who know what they are grateful for experience life differently from those who do not. Another idea is to start a gratitude jar. People with young children often try this idea. Each day you empty your pockets of loose change and money into the jar. When the jar becomes full you donate the money to a cause within your community or a needy person. This is yet another great tangible reminder of how we can practice being more gracious.

Again, I want to reiterate the science portion of this lesson. Being grateful has real benefits! People ages 8 to 80 were studied and those who exhibited more gratitude showed stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, were less bothered by aches and pains, slept longer, felt more refreshed upon waking, exercised more and took better care of their health. They had higher levels of positive emotions, were more alert, alive, awake, and experienced more joy, pleasure, optimism, and happiness. Finally, these people were more generous, compassionate, forgiving, outgoing, and felt less lonely and isolated. Why wouldn’t everyone want to reap these physical, psychological, and social benefits? It is all at your disposal.

To conclude, I want to share one more idea of how you can start expressing more gratitude today! One study examined gratitude’s effects on people’s happiness. The participants were asked, “Who is someone who is very important to you? Who has had a huge impact on your life?” After responding, they were asked to write a letter or paragraph about why they felt this way. Then the hard part came. Following writing their responses, they were then asked to call up that person and read them what they had written. What came next was heart-warming. It’s often hard to tell people how much they mean to you and why. It makes most of us feel embarrassed or vulnerable. But if you brave the five minutes or so it takes, you will feel so good afterwards, and you may be starting that chain reaction I spoke about in the beginning of this article. People like to be told that they matter to someone, and that they are doing a good job at whatever it is that they are doing. The reactions of the people receiving the expressions of gratitude were priceless and inspiring as were the people thanking them. Another interesting finding they made was, after measuring the people’s happiness levels both before and after the call, the people who benefitted the most from this activity were the people who came in feeling the least happy at the beginning of the study. That goes to show that if you are ever going through something tough or having a hard time, try this! Pick up the phone, thank someone. Who knows, you might get a call back in the future.

As Thanksgiving is fading away this year, remember that there is no one day devoted to being thankful. While it serves as a good reminder for most of us, practicing gratitude can become an everyday thing. Just see for yourself!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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