When we all sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this month, preparing to enjoy a delicious spread with our loved ones around us, we will be conscious of our gratitude. Whether we express it in prayer or silent thought, before the meal or when our bellies are full, we will be thankful (at the very least, thankful the game turned out as we'd hoped!).
That is all wonderful, of course, but it's just one day. This year, I encourage and challenge you to find something to be thankful for every day. Try it for the month of November and it could actually change your brain. What would that mean? A healthier, happier, better-rested version of you! It could even alleviate depression.
To really feel thankful for things we have to first notice them, so thankfulness and mindfulness are necessarily connected. Together, they're often called a "gratitude practice."
Harvard Health Magazine describes gratitude as:
"a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships."
Sounds pretty great! That said, you have to believe your brain can change and improve for it to actually happen. People who think their intelligence is ingrained from birth won't improve after making mistakes nearly as well as people who know intelligence isn't stagnant. Mindset matters!
Try some of the these ideas to develop your own gratitude practice, see the joy in your life, and change your brain:
1. First thing in the morning think of three things you are grateful for and share them with someone else, if you can. Do it even if you're cold, even if it's Monday. They can be as simple as "I am grateful I woke up this morning."
2. Be grateful on social media. Every day through Thanksgiving, post a picture on Instagram (tag #weldonwellness) or Facebook (tag @weldonwellness) and a caption with what you are grateful for. Not only will this make you more aware of your gratitude, it will encourage others to do the same! If you do it every day this month (counting starts Nov 3), I'll do a free full hour-long health history with you (not my usual free 20-min consultation; I'll give you full recommendations). If you don't need it for yourself, you can share the love and gift it to someone else.
3. Start a gratitude journal and try to write something in it every single day. When you're having a bad day, open it up and remember something positive.
4. Do a gratitude visit or write a letter. Think of someone who did something kind for you - even if it was years ago - and either go talk to them or send a note telling them how much it meant to you (and means to you still!). Thank you notes should never go out of style.
5. Try to go a week (or even a day) without voicing a single complaint. This is a different approach, but it will make you more aware of what you focus on and hopefully give you a reason to talk about things in a more positive and thankful way.
6. Pray or meditate. Instead of asking for things, express appreciation for them. You can try the guided gratitude meditation on Deepak Chopra's site or here, or branch out into a loving kindness meditation practice.
7. If you are going through a rough time, don't dismiss the silver-lining idea. It can be difficult to maintain perspective in a difficult situation, but even in the worst times we can be grateful for the knowledge and experience we gain when we come out on the other side. I think of when my grandmother died: though it was an agonizing process, I was grateful at the time that I was able to be with her and say goodbye, and I am grateful now that if I ever have to go through that with someone else I love, I will be better prepared (and could help someone else go through it, too).
8. Appreciate your partner (or roommate, or parents, or even pet). Every day tell them at least one thing you love, admire, respect, or enjoy about them. Start small if you need to: "Thank you for unloading the dishwasher before I got home, it seems small but it made my evening much more relaxing."
9. Look yourself in the eye in the mirror as you brush your teeth and think of one thing you are grateful for about yourself. If this is hard for you, start small: "I have a nice smile."
10. Make a gratitude board or collage with pictures of things or quotations that remind you to be thankful. Hang it somewhere you will see it every day, and make a point to actually look at it.
If you have other tips from your gratitude practice, please share them! Inspiration is always welcome.