Thanksgiving (noun) | thanks·giv·ing | thaŋ(k)s-ˈgi-viŋ
The act of giving thanks
A prayer expressing gratitude
Whatever your feelings are on the history of Thanksgiving, the traditional meal, or your plans for this Thursday, the upcoming holiday can serve as a timely reminder of the benefits of giving thanks.
Throughout history, gratitude has been hailed as a virtue. Ralph Waldo Emerson once advised others to “cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.”
It turns out Emerson’s advice was well-founded. In addition to making us more inclined to appreciate others and improving our relationships, gratitude enhances our own well-being.
“Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, [and] regular physical examinations,” according to Professor Robert Emmons, gratitude researcher and psychology professor at the University of California, Davis. On the other hand, a lack of gratitude can contribute to stress and anxiety and lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Gratitude is especially powerful because it operates like a feedback loop: the energy we put in comes back to us and fuels further positivity.
Somewhat ironically, the times we are most in need of the wellness-enhancing benefits of gratitude may be the times it is most difficult to conjure up thankful thoughts. That’s why consciously committing to the practice of gratitude can be life-changing.
In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, here are 20 prompts for flexing your gratitude muscles this holiday season:
Make a list of things for which you are thankful. This doesn’t need to be done in a fancy journal [though if you want one, here is a favorite]. When I’m on the go, I’ll just write things in the “Notes” app on my phone.
To deepen your gratitude practice, expand your list to include why you are thankful for those things.
Appreciate time off work and devote your free time to things that bring you joy.
If you plan on buying gifts, as you make each purchase, reflect on what the recipient brings to your life. If you’re the crafty type, consider making gifts for loved ones to personalize the expression of gratitude.
Write a letter or card conveying your gratitude to someone and send it via snail mail (admit it, in the digital age, it’s exciting to get a tangible letter in the mail).
Help out around the house: buy groceries, prepare a meal, do the dishes or laundry, or clean up.
Pay someone a compliment (bonus points if it’s not related to their looks).
Go for a run, practice yoga, or engage in some other physical activity. Appreciate your body’s strength and capabilities.
Spend time outside appreciating nature.
Consider donating time or money to a cause you feel passionate about.
Surprise someone with an act of kindness.
Surround yourself with others who express gratitude openly and regularly, and it might rub off.
Give someone a hug.
Catch up with a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.
Be sure to genuinely thank everyone who does something that makes your day a little easier: the person checking you out or bagging your groceries, your cab or uber driver, a delivery person etc.
Sleep in or take a nap and don’t feel guilty about it.
If you catch yourself having a negative thought, think of how you might replace it with something positive (or even neutral).
Similarly, if you catch yourself frowning, make an effort to smile (just the act of smiling has been shown to boost emotions)
Smile at strangers.
Look in the mirror and be thankful for your beautiful body and what it’s done for you.