Be thankful. Be grateful. Appreciate what you have. These were just words to me for a big part of my life. Growing up I was forced to say grace at the dinner table. Yet, no one ever seemed as if they really felt thankful for the food about to be eaten. The words were recited quickly, with no expression and no eye contact. I felt as if we were going through the motions in order to uphold the ritual.
It took me several decades to grasp what it means to be truly thankful. Now when I write in my journal of appreciations I’m often brought to tears by the overwhelming feeling of joy I experience from acknowledgment of all I am and all I have.
Maybe if someone had told me years ago that being thankful could improve my relationships, improve my physical health and improve my mental health then I might have focused on the concept sooner.
Why Being Thankful is Important
It’s easy to focus on the negatives in life. We are bombarded with them. Even though there are far more positive events that occur around the world, the news chooses to focus on disasters. Doctors are required these days to tell a patient the worst possible outcome from their diagnosis. It’s much easier to correct a mistake than to praise a good job. We are not negative by nature. Our environment, our culture and our upbringing influence how we view our world.
Feeling thankful helps you feel more satisfied with your life and less anxious. Shifting your attention from what can go wrong to what is going right helps you feel better.
How to Feel Thankful
I always had a hard time with expressions like, “Be thankful you woke up this morning, be thankful that you have a roof over your head and be thankful you have food to eat.”
Dr. Kimberly Martin, a licensed clinical psychologist and yoga teacher who practices on the Hill, said I am not alone. She, too, has a hard time with thankful statements without some actionable follow-up. “What does that look like in action? If I say I’m thankful I woke up today to do great things, I want to make sure that I do some great things that day. What am I going to do with that feeling of thankfulness? How am I contributing to my well-being and the well-being of others?”
Incredibly, according to research conducted by the national science foundation around 80% of our thoughts are negative. The average person entertains somewhere between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts daily, 95% of which are repetitive. Breaking the habit of negative thinking is formidable but not impossible.
Dr. Martin finds it easier to feel thankful at the end of the day. “It’s helpful to look at and recognize things that went well. It can help you remember what your purpose and goals are.”
Being thankful is all about perspective. When you are thankful for what you have it can open up a new way of looking at how good you actually do have things. It helps to see that there are always things in your life that you can value and appreciate, no matter what is going on.
It also makes others feel good. When you show that you appreciate them, you help to strengthen your bond and relationship. When you take the time to make others feel good, it will make you feel good too.
Being thankful for the simple things in life can help boost your self-esteem (I wish I realized this decades ago). This means that you will be more confident and less worried about how you measure up to others.
Ways to Be Thankful
One of the best ways that you can be grateful is by practicing meditation. Meditation gives an opportunity to clear your mind and get in touch with your thoughts. It becomes easier to recognize unbridled negative thinking. If you are trying to find things to be grateful for, meditating will help your mind to see what is there.
Another way to feel more thankful is to list the things that made your day better. This can help you because when you go back and look at the things you wrote down, it can remind you of what went well for you in the past. When tough times come along, instead of focusing on the negatives you can re-read the things for which you are thankful. It will be easier to get through the rough spot. Once I got into the habit of writing my list of appreciations (I write 10 daily) the process became easier. Eventually I noticed things during my day that made me thankful as they were happening.
During this holiday season, it’s a good time to notice what you may be taking for granted. Living a life of gratitude brings positive changes and helps you notice little wins – it’s easier for me now to smile when I look at the clouds as I’m driving instead of getting angry at crazy drivers. Instead of focusing on the alone part, I focus on the peaceful and fun part of spending an evening home with my dogs.
Even though I aspire to change, Dr. Martin said that finding peace with acceptance of where I am allows me to take the next step on the path to change. Being thankful gives me an opportunity to feel joy in everything that happens. It takes work, but it’s worth the effort.
Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 25 years. She focuses on holistic ways to stay healthy, get well and connect with your true self. Please email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.