The Thanksgiving holiday is a great excuse to talk about what you are grateful for. The holiday name means “to give thanks” and was originally celebrated as a day to give thanks for the previous year’s harvest. Now it has evolved to a gathering where people usually go around the table and say what they are thankful for.
This simple act is really about showing gratitude, which is being thankful and showing appreciation. Practicing gratitude is linked with life satisfaction and overall happiness. When life is difficult, I often recommend to people that they start a gratitude log. At the end of every day, you write down three things from that specific day that you feel grateful for.
This simple practice can start to change the way you experience your day. At first you may have to struggle to think of things like a pretty sunset, catching the green lights, a phone call from a friend or any other small thing that you experienced that brought you happiness. After some time, you will start to notice the things as they happen. Someone may hold a door open for you and you will think to yourself: that was so nice I will have to add that to my gratitude list tonight.
Focusing on positive things helps change our outlook on our day. In the social work field, we rely on the strengths-based perspective. This means you focus on the person’s abilities, strengths and resources rather than their deficits and problems. If we focus on strengths, it allows the person to see their potential and value, thus motivating them to move forward towards their goals. In the same way if we focus on our day’s strengths, we can feel more positive about our experiences and may have more excitement for the next day.
The ability to express and feel gratitude increases as we age. Studies have even shown that older adults have the greatest sense of gratitude over other age groups. Perhaps this is because people have a greater perspective or feel closer to their last chapter and are inclined to appreciate what they have in their time left.
There is a long list of health benefits associated with expressing gratitude, including lowered blood pressure, increased immune function, lower depression, and lower anxiety.
That being said, of course not everything can or should be seen through rose-colored glasses. You can still have room for sadness while also respecting that each day brings both good and bad. But by recapping the good before bed, it sets your body up for rest, for calm and for a strengths-based perspective.
Take this opportunity to also express your gratitude to those around you. Let those who support you know how much you appreciate them. Say extra thank you’s to the people in public who are kind and courteous. You have the power to brighten someone else’s day by showing them your appreciation and kindness towards them.
This Thanksgiving holiday start a tradition for yourself that does not only last for one day. Make practicing gratitude a regular part of every day and share this with others around you.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.