On Being Grateful Beyond Thanksgiving
A few days ago I was doing housework and was packing away some of the decorations I had out for Thanksgiving to make room for Halloween decor. One of the first things I carefully put away was our “I am Thankful For Jar", which is an old mason jar decorated with leaves & feathers that my daughters created when they were about 5 & 7 years old. The idea was that each person sharing our Thanksgiving meal was given a piece of paper to write down something they were thankful or grateful for. These are then placed in the jar & the girls read them aloud. It is an activity that always brings smiles, laughter and just generally a warm, fuzzy feeling. As I packed the jar in tissue paper, I thought to myself why do we limit this idea/practice to one celebration?! If something so simple evokes such positive emotions, why not do it every day?
This prompted me to explore more about being grateful & thankful.l questioned: is being thankful and grateful the same thing? Can those words be used interchangeably? The Oxford dictionary defines the word thankful as "being pleased and relieved" which are both great feelings. The same dictionary defines grateful as "showing an appreciation of kindness" This is what the difference is: being thankful is a feeling and being grateful is an action. Gratitude carries more weight than being thankful, it is beyond just feeling thankful.
The benefits of being grateful have been researched extensively. These are 7 scientifically proven benefits of gratitude:
1)Gratitude opens the door to more relationships
2)Gratitude improves physical health, grateful people have fewer aches & pains
3)Gratitude improves psychological health, it reduces toxic emotions
4)Gratitude enhances empathy & reduces aggression, grateful people are just nicer to be around
5)Grateful people sleep better
6)Gratitude improves self esteem, which leads to more accomplishments
7)Gratitude increases mental strength, it reduces stress and improves resiliency
After learning about the positive benefits of being grateful, how it improves our overall well-being one wonders why we all just don't do more of it? At a Dr. Jody Carrington event that I attended, she spoke about being grateful. She talked about gratitude being a practice and skill. She said "it is not something we are naturally good at, we need to work on it.If we don't practice it, we won't sharpen that skill”.
There are many ways to practice and become skilled at being grateful. We can use gratitude exercises like journaling or creating a gratitude jar, meditation or prayer, paying attention to the little things around you in life, performing an act of kindness or telling someone you're grateful for them. How we choose to practice gratitude is very individual and there is no right or wrong way to do it, the important thing is to be intentional about it and follow through. As we become better skilled at it, being grateful will become internalized and easier.
I did pack away our Thanksgiving jar but vowed to make an every day one. It sits beside my Keurig so that I am visually reminded to pause and think about one thing or person I am grateful for each day. It is true that even when I reflect on the smallest pleasures in life, like my corgi Andie cuddling on my lap, it brings me feelings of joy and I feel fortunate. I encourage each of you too to find your way to practice more gratitude.I will leave you with these words from self-help author Melody Beattie "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more".
Cheryl Dechaine, RN