Every November, many of us gather as families to think about the things we’re grateful for. For many of us, Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect on the good parts of our lives and to share a meal with people we love.
You may not think that Thanksgiving is a very good holiday for your health with all the turkey and pumpkin pie, but there is another aspect of Thanksgiving that is great for our mental and physical health: expressing gratitude!
Multiple studies have shown that expressing gratitude and thankfulness can help improve our health. A study conducted at the University of California showed that groups who wrote about things they were grateful for “felt more optimistic and better about their lives” than groups who were asked to write about things that aggravated them or who wrote about things that affected them without regard to whether it was good or bad.
Other studies showed that couples who took time to express gratitude had improved relationships, and managers who thanked their employees motivated them to work harder. Gratitude has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve overall wellbeing, and even change the neural structures in our brain! It is really a powerful tool for mental health.
However, sometimes it can be difficult to focus on the things we’re grateful for, especially when we feel like many things in our lives are going wrong. A study by Shai Davidai and Thomas Gilovich refers to this phenomenon as headwind/tailwind asymmetry. It explains how we tend to spend more time focusing on barriers in our lives because we need to take action to deal with and overcome them. Our blessings, benefits, and resources are easier to ignore because we can simply enjoy them without too much thought.
So how can we avoid headwind/tailwind asymmetry and focus on cultivating gratitude? Here are a few techniques:
1. Keep a gratitude journal
To keep a gratitude journal, take time to write down things you are thankful for that day. The act of writing forces us to take time to contemplate our blessings and helps us remember them longer. When we keep a journal, we can also look back and see all the things in our lives to feel thankful for when we’re feeling down.
2. Write a thank you note
There are a lot of people to be thankful for in our lives. A friend, partner, coworker, or mentor are all great options for a thank you note. Gratitude does not always need to be expressed to others in order to help us, but sharing gratitude improves wellbeing both for us and the people in our lives who we are thankful for. Try to be sincere and specific about how this person has affected your life.
3. Meditate or pray
If you are religious, praying is a great way to express gratitude. You can also practice meditation. Look for a guided gratitude meditation, or just find a quiet, comfortable place and spend some time reflecting on what you have to feel thankful for.
4. Start the day by naming three things you’re thankful for
The mindset with which we start our day can affect how we react to situations throughout the day. Name three things you are thankful for each morning to help you remember gratitude throughout your day.