Once autumn arrives we feel the shift of the season and begin to plan our Thanksgiving dinners. The gourds and pumpkins are on display at the grocery store, and thoughts of family dinners with pie for dessert begin to fill our minds -- soon to fill our stomachs as well.
Winter is coming. Traditionally this has been the time of year where people gather with their loved ones and celebrate the bounty of the harvest. This is a season for thanks and gratitude -- but how do we achieve gratitude and weave this into our lives all year long and not just for one turkey-filled weekend?
Gratitude is a state of feeling grateful towards something or someone, and it comes from the Latin word "gratus," which mean pleasing, agreeable and thankful -- so to be grateful is to be filled with thanks.
Many studies have documented the health benefits of gratitude. Gratitude does not have to come in big and flashy packages, but rather the most rewarding gratitude can come in simple acts and gestures. Gratitude is not just about being thankful for what we receive, but also being grateful for the opportunity to give.
To paraphrase an old Buddhist saying, the greatest joy in life comes from giving and doing for another, whereas the greatest pain in life comes from doing or thinking only of oneself. I believe this to be true -- if I am honest I can see that my greatest joys have been when I have been of service to others, and my greatest pain has come when I was only thinking of myself.
The science also backs this up . When we express gratitude our health improves, we have increased sleep quality and we experience a stronger sense of well-being. Gratitude leads us to a deeper level of empathy and compassion for others, and a stronger sense of belonging and connectedness with the world around us. We experience high degrees of satisfaction when we focus on the positive, remain humble and take the opportunities to make a positive impact on someone else. Appreciation for others in our lives strengthens our health, our relationships and connections.
So what are some practices that will fill us with thanks and focus us on gratitude? Here are some simple tips to practice gratitude and experience a more joyful and connected life.
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
This does not have to be elaborate or time consuming. It can be as easy as having a small book around in which you write down three words that symbolize three things you are grateful for that day. You can spend as little or as much time as you want on this. You can also keep it as a document on your computer, tablet or phone. The important thing is to have an intentional focus on the positive. On my most difficult days this simple attention to three gratitude's has made a huge difference, and has truly assisted me when I needed it most. On my best days this has been a celebration that allows me to be present and truly enjoy the life I am living. If you allow yourself a few moments to ponder the positive it is amazing how this focused gratitude can brighten any day.
Yes, it is as simple as that! A smile can trigger brain chemistry that makes us feel good. If we smile at others we can possibly evoke a smile in them as well. Smiling is just good for us.
3. Say thank you.
Not only is this good manners, it spreads good feelings. Recognizing the small actions people do every day, which might be overlooked, is a true gift we can give others and ourselves. Do not be afraid to compliment someone and share an appreciation.
4. Link gratitude to your morning ritual.
Think of that first cup of coffee or tea as your cup of gratitude. Take a moment while drinking your morning beverage and start the day off with a positive thought. Breathe in the aroma of the coffee and feel the warmth of the cup in your hands, and just allow the word gratitude to fill in the space.
5. Go for a mindful walk.
Pay attention to your senses as you walk. This is good for your body and your mind. Be grateful for the things we take for granted -- our ability to breath, to touch, to see and to move our bodies. Pay attention to your feet as they meet the ground. Take in the sights and the sounds around you. Look to the environment to be inspired in your gratitude. Use this as an opportunity to practice gratitude, get exercise and collect yourself -- all at the same time.
6. Use the camera on your smart phone to keep a visual record of gratitude.
When you feel grateful or see something that triggers gratitude, take a picture on your phone. You can be creative and collage the pictures, or just enjoy the sense of well-being the photos inspire.
7. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has impacted your life.
Let them know how they have inspired you, and how they have changed your life for the better. Give them the letter as it will be a great gift to yourself and the other person.
8. Share appreciations at meals.
When you are eating with others take turns sharing what makes you feel grateful, and what you appreciate about each person at the table. This is a lovely dinner ritual, and a great way to deepen connections, create a positive atmosphere and keep the conversation flowing.
Writing this article has inspired me to refocus on gratitude in my own life. It truly is a beautiful life, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you. Happy Thanksgiving!
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