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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

To my readers around the world, I want to talk about a holiday celebrated in the United States, Thanksgiving. The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in November 1621. This feast lasted three days and was attended by 90 Native American Wampanoag people and 53 survivors of the Mayflower. (Wikipedia). It is a day dedicated to gratitude.

My question is — in these tumultuous, chaotic times, can we dig deep enough to experience gratitude? And how do you do that? Here are seven suggestions on navigating gratitude when you just don’t feel like it.

1. Don’t Focus on Feeling Grateful

a. There is a common misconception that you must feel grateful to be grateful. According to neuroscientist and coach Alexander Korb, Ph.D., “You can’t control your feelings, and focusing on feeling grateful will often make you feel ungrateful.” What’s more helpful is to acknowledge the positive parts of your life, says Korb. “As you practice directing your focus, and actions towards the things you’re grateful for, the feelings will follow eventually.”

2. Acknowledge the Awful

a. Gratitude doesn’t turn a blind eye to heartbreak. You can both honor your pain and highlight a positive sliver. In challenging times, Sophia Godkin, Ph.D., a health psychologist suggests completing this sentence: “I don’t like that _________________ but the fact that____________ isn’t all that bad.”

b. Because some things might not have an upside, don’t force yourself to come up with one. Instead, try shifting to finding opportunities or benefits in a different challenge.

3. Stack Your Gratitude

a. Creating a new habit — no matter how small — is hard, especially around the holiday season when it seems like there is already so much to do. The key is to add a mini gratitude ritual to an existing solid habit.

b. You might reflect on three good things as you’re brushing your teeth, washing your hands, drinking a morning cup of coffee, or turning on your car. Known as habit stacking, adding a new practice to an already established habit boosts your chances of sticking to it every day.

4. Think Small

a. We often think that gratitude requires appreciating massive things like a vacation, a new job, or a big bonus. Indeed, it is helpful to start your gratitude practice with the basics, such as giving thanks for food, electricity, and clean water, says Lisa M. Brown, Ph.D., director of the Trauma Program and the Risk and Resilience Research Lab at Palo Alto University.

5. Look for Signs of Hope

a. Even when life seems bleak, there is hope, compassion, and love — if we look for it. As you move about your day, look for signs of hope in your own community. Seek out hopeful stories online and jot down the inspiring, uplifting things you find.

6. Give Thanks for Others

a. Expressing your gratitude can boost your mood and your relationships. One study found that participants who penned and delivered a gratitude letter to another person felt happier and less depressed. Another study found that on days those participants felt more grateful for their partners, they were more thoughtful and responsive to their needs.

b. When expressing your appreciation, it’s important to be specific with your kind words.

7. Savor a Sweet Memory

a. Reflecting on positive memories can help us to re-experience those positive emotions in the present moment. Happy memories can boost the production of serotonin in the brain, helping foster positive emotions.

b. To harness these effects, Korb suggests thinking about your favorite moment from the past few months — anything from a fun activity to a connection-building conversation. Use your senses to re-experience the memory.

c. Practicing gratitude right now might feel unnatural and inauthentic. But when we look around, we notice the genuine good that does exist — whether it’s a hot bowl of soup or a kind gesture.

Adapted from 7 Ways to Be Thankful — Yes, Even Now

By Margarita Tartakovsky

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