November 21, 2022

Thanksgiving keeps you healthy—strategies to cultivate gratitude in your daily life

For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time for connecting with family and friends to enjoy a holiday meal, watch football on TV, or take a walk together outside in the fresh air. It’s also an opportunity to take a pause to reflect on the gratitude you feel for the big—and little—gifts in your life.

Beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling you get from appreciating something or someone, the practice of gratitude brings benefits that can have lasting effects on your whole health. Research shows that practicing small, simple moments of gratitude can bolster your well-being, especially at times when it may be challenging to feel grateful. Findings also show that it can improve immunity and heart health. Expressing gratitude on a regular basis reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. 

Appreciating something requires your attention. But the reality is: there are a lot of things in our environment that compete for our attention. This conflict is a big reason why it can be difficult to tap into gratitude: we don’t always pay attention to things we’re actually thankful for.

So, the first step to practicing gratitude is to become more mindful—to pause and take note of what we may routinely take for granted.

How to Connect to Gratitude with Mindfulness Practice

Tapping into gratitude can be done in less than a minute. First, inhale deeply. Then exhale. Focus your attention on ONE thing you’re grateful for or that you appreciate in this moment. It can be as simple as noticing that you’re breathing. It could be appreciation for a partner or friend who said something kind to you today. For the beautiful sunrise you were able to see this morning. Or, if you’re struggling to find something to be thankful for, how about appreciation for the fact that you woke up this morning? That you’re here right now, learning how to develop your gratitude muscle and improve your well-being?

To make this even easier, you can “automate your appreciation” by linking it to something you’re already doing every day. For example, in the morning when you roll out of bed and your feet hit the floor, you can take that moment to think of three things you’re thankful for. Or when you lay your head on your pillow to go to sleep at night, name three things that you feel grateful for from your day. You might be amazed at how your body relaxes and sleep comes easier when you think about things you appreciate.

What about those times where you’re struggling and gratitude is the last thing on your mind? What’s not useful is to try to guilt yourself into being grateful. It can be helpful to simply reflect on what you value most. Maybe it’s a relationship, your health, a fulfilling hobby. And then ask yourself: “What’s one thing I can do that shows my appreciation in a way that honors that value?”

A powerful way to add some thanksgiving into your daily life can be to keep a gratitude journal. This has been proven to lower stress hormones and increase optimism. If a journal feels like too much, try creating a short gratitude list and see if appreciating some of the good things in your day can help balance out some of the not so good ones. 

You can also experience the power of expressing your gratitude outwardly. Consider writing a letter or card to someone who’s shown you a small act of kindness. Or simply saying “thank you” or “you matter to me,” and see how that feels.

This week, experiment with one of these strategies to enjoy the benefits of thanksgiving in your daily life:

  • While eating, take a mindful moment to notice something about your meal. The warmth of the food in your mouth, the aroma of your cup of coffee, or the joy of having someone to share your meal with—all are worth appreciating.
  • Consider sending a simple email or thank you card to a friend, family member, or colleague who’s supported or helped you out in a special way. 
  • As you wind down at bedtime, make a mental note or written list of three things you appreciated in your day today.
  • Link the practice of gratitude to an existing habit, like waking up in the morning, taking a shower, getting into your car, or laying down to go to sleep.

Thanksgiving can be an empowering, life-giving practice that promotes better health, greater resilience, and a brighter outlook. 

Interested in learning more about enhancing your well-being with gratitude? Check out eM Life’s on-demand program Gratefully All In