It's common for many of us to focus on what is lacking or scarce, versus awareness and appreciation of what actually exists. Gratitude is paying attention to what we have, rather than what we don't. During this month of Thanksgiving, there is always an emphasis on gratitude.
"I want…", "I wish…", "I'll be happy when…"
Sound bites from a toddler? No, just statements we say or hear on a regular basis. It's common for many of us to focus on what is lacking or scarce, versus awareness and appreciation of what actually exists. Gratitude is paying attention to what we have, rather than what we don't. During this month of Thanksgiving, there is always an emphasis on gratitude. In fact, if you use Facebook, your news feed has undoubtedly been filled this month with "30 Days of Thanksgiving" updates and you may be adding your own. This is great but what about the other 11 months of the year?
Establishing a regular practice of gratitude doesn't need to end with the upcoming holidays. In fact, people who develop a practice or habit of acknowledging gratitude experience very real benefits such as higher levels of joy and optimism, increased compassion, increased connectedness with others, and even stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure.
A common way to begin a regular practice of gratitude is to start a gratitude journal of some sort – notebook, e-tablet, phone, computer, voice memo, any form. Take time each day to acknowledge and record anything you are grateful for. There are no limitations to what you can be grateful for: a sunny day, a loving relationship, family, health, hearing your favorite song, a smooth ride to work, dependable friends, food on the table. Take care to write in the affirmative, e.g. "I'm grateful for…" rather than "I'm grateful that I'm not…" Feel free to be repetitive but challenge yourself to add at least one new item each time.
Share your gratitude: make a habit of genuinely thanking someone on a regular basis. You can even take it a step further and pen an old-fashioned (and probably unexpected) thank you note.
Gratitude is not only important for our individual well-being but for our relationships as well. Drs. John and Julie Gottman, renowned couples therapists, have been researching marriages for several decades and have consistently found that marriages with a high ratio of positive to negative interactions (5:1 or more) have the highest rates of intact, satisfying marriages. Teaching couples how to demonstrate appreciation and respect is one component of their model of couples therapy, having found that appreciation is an antidote to contempt created by hurtful or negative experiences.
Other relationships also see the benefits of practicing gratitude. Take work, for example. Most of us work because we need a paycheck, however, there are often other motivations including fulfilling a sense of purpose and accomplishment. In the workplace, many employees report that feeling appreciated by their employer and/or co-workers promotes their sense of self-worth, greater emotional investment in their work and fosters a more trusting environment.
In our relationships with our children, we can demonstrate and model gratitude in our interactions with them as well as with others. We can teach them "thank you" by expressing appreciation towards them and by expressing appreciation for others. Emergency vehicle racing down the street? Share with your children, "I'm thankful for the men and women willing to risk their lives to save others in need" and/or "I'm thankful that we have these people to help us stay safe."
Practicing gratitude is beneficial, requires little time or effort and is free. I challenge everyone to make it a priority long after the Thanksgiving turkey is gone. Thank YOU for reading!
Dawn Schatz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, certified Domestic Violence Specialist, Gestalt Therapist and founder of Appoquinimink Counseling Services, LLC in Middletown. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 898-1616.