As Thanksgiving approaches, we often hear the word “gratitude”. Many of us have a lot for which we are thankful. Sometimes, during historically traditional holidays, people experience sadness and have difficulty with expressing or experiencing gratitude, because holidays bring back memories of times past. Sometimes those are difficult or painful memories and sometimes they are positive memories. Positive memories can be mixed in with feelings of sadness or grief, because positive memories may include someone or something no longer in our lives, thus evoking a sense of loss in the midst of an otherwise happy memory.
Gratitude can be an everyday habit; not just a holiday sentiment. In counseling as well as life or performance coaching, gratitude becomes an important technique for assisting an individual in attaining contentment, improving performance, or adjusting perspectives in a useful manner. Gratitude alters our perspective by helping us become mindful of the good, even if we are sad, lonely, or otherwise in some form of psychological pain. A gratitude list is one such tool; I often suggest individuals make a daily gratitude list, even if it is just in the form of 4 to 7 things represented by “bullet points” as a single word or phrase. This keeps the activity brief and focused, without it becoming something like a written homework assignment!
When implementing this brief gratitude technique daily in my own life, I discovered that while big things occasionally “made the list” (and certainly being grateful for my health, the health and wellbeing of loved ones, a home, good food to eat, etc., qualified), it was being conscious of those big things, PLUS small things that taught me the value of daily blessings. Some of my bullet point words included: sunshine, rain when it had been dry, a gentle breeze, a good cup of coffee, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the sight of a flower, the sound of a great piece of music, my 10-year old computer always powering up and working without problems…these were surprisingly the things that brought a sense of gratitude to that particular moment. Practicing gratitude daily in this brief activity began to consciously bring to my awareness good things that were all around me. My 5 senses informed me of those blessings through sight, sound, smell, touch (or feel), taste. Being grateful stopped being a duty; it was no longer an “ought to” (the thought “I should be grateful for…” is the beginning of an obligation thought, rather than a joyful thought. These thoughts serve us well at times, but the purpose of this activity is to connect a present experience with a positive thought, not with obligation). Being grateful became a habit, and noticing small blessings happened more often. I found myself experiencing unexpected pleasure through this habit of noticing. It took a daily gratitude list for me to develop this habit.
Consider beginning a daily gratitude list this Thanksgiving and commit to this brief activity for up to 1 year. See what changes cultivating this habit can create in improving your daily perspective. Happy Thanksgiving!