By Sarah Clavin, Miller Swim School
Typically, at the beginning of each year I set a “word” for the year, something I choose to focus on and be the filter by which I see and do things. One year I chose “mindfulness,” and another it was “rest.” This year, though, during the process of selecting a word, the final decision eluded me. In reflection, however, I notice a common theme that has played out over the last 10 months. That word is “grateful.”
During a time where so many things have gone awry, where so many people have lost a loved one or a career, where we have struggled to balance hope and fear, we have every opportunity to leave 2020 feeling bitter, angry and resentful. Yet, when I pause, when I look back on how each part of this year has affected my life, my family, my schedule, my heart, I am eternally grateful to have walked through it all.
As we enter Thanksgiving, though it looks different for many this year, the foundation of the celebration remains the same. Gratitude, appreciation, and thanksgiving and all in perfect timing. Did you know that positive psychology research shows gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness. An attitude of gratitude enables people to feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Woah. Talk about an easy way to improve your mental health!
There are many different approaches to practicing gratefulness. You can apply mindful gratitude to the past by retrieving positive memories, the present by not taking your current situation for granted or the future by maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude. Regardless of the current level of your gratitude, there is always room to grow; it is a quality, or mindset that can be cultivated through practice.
Gratitude is also defined as a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. The ability to be grateful is a skill we can teach our children early on. Each year at Thanksgiving we incorporate a fun, turkey themed activity for the kids where they can reflect themselves and write down (or dictate to a grown up) the things/people they are most thankful for. I hope that by starting them in this mindset from a young age, that they would be able to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for themselves.
As we move into the Thanksgiving Week, here are some practical ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis:
Write a thank-you note. You not only will nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter but research shows that you will experience an increased level of happiness by expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, you may even write one to yourself.
Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual. (Although I truly believe that if you think something nice about someone, you should always tell them! A quick text or email is fast and easy to send. And the benefits for both sender and receiver vastly outweigh the cost of time.)
Keep a gratitude journal. Start each day by writing down 3-5 things you are thankful for. They may be simple or complex. Today, I am thankful for a warm cup of coffee. Yesterday I was thankful for a stable job that provides me an income to buy groceries for my family. Simple task with a BIG mental impact.
Count your blessings. Pick a time annually to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. We do this with our family during the holidays. Frankly, it should be a more routine part of our schedule. As you reflect, be specific, being able to identify how you find gratitude or appreciation during a trial, trains your brain to be able to look for the good next time things get tough. The height of my joy depends on the depth of my thanks.
Pray. People who are religious use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves being still and reflecting. You may choose to think on a word, a phrase, or even a verse. Visualize that word or phrase playing out in your daily life. What does it look like? How does it make you feel? Here is one to get you started: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7