With all the bad that is happening around us – locally, we struggle with high unemployment and low educational attainment rates. Nationally, we hear stories of law enforcement’s misuse of power or listen to our elected leaders spout xenophobic rhetoric that is counter to our country’s democratic ideals. Globally, we are appalled and frightened by the news of terrorist attacks that have left hundreds dead and seriously injured – it is sometimes difficult to stop and give thanks for all that is good in our lives.
Thanksgiving Day gives us that opportunity.
I once read that the ancient Roman philosopher Cicero called gratitude the “queen of virtues”. And as a virtue, the practice of gratitude leads to the practice of even more virtuous actions: love, forgiveness, patience, and kindness. Since gratitude is the quality of being thankful I would like to offer you a reminder from one of my past columns, The Virtue of Gratitude, and present you with a challenge. Practice documenting your gratitude every day for a year and let me know what you learn from the exercise:
Several years ago I decided to start keeping a gratitude journal. It wasn’t because I wasn’t grateful or even that I needed to remind myself to give thanks, it was instead, a practice of cultivating even more gratitude in my life. According to Dr. Robert Emmons, research has shown that when people regularly cultivate gratitude, they experience a multitude of psychological, physical, interpersonal, and spiritual benefits. Gratitude, he says, also has one of the strongest links to positive mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait, “more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion.” Grateful people, according to his research, experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness; and gratitude as a discipline protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.
Emmons suggests a number of evidence-based strategies, including journaling, reflective thinking, letter writing, and gratitude visits, to be effective in creating sustainable gratefulness. As a longtime journal writer, I have found that not only does keeping a gratitude journal cultivate and encourage me to be grateful, it attracts even more positive interactions and people in my life.
Remember these ten tips for successful gratitude journaling:
- Write briefly daily.
- Record your gratitude.
- Seek gratitude density. Give details. Be specific.
- Include surprises.
- Use the language of gifts.
- Think about the people to whom you are grateful and why.
- Think about and then write down those aspects of your life that you are prone to take for granted.
- Let your gratitude last a long time.
- Don’t only journal about people who helped you but also about those who have helped people whom you love.
- Be grateful for the negative outcomes that you avoided, escaped, prevented, or redeemed into something positive.
Happy Thanksgiving and remember to practice being grateful all year long.