Are we grateful to have made it to November? Thankful that 2020 is almost over? Before it is, we have the holiday season to get through and next up is Thanksgiving. This is a time of year when we focus on gathering together, connecting with family and friends, sharing a meal and expressing gratitude.
Does this year have you asking, “Gratitude for what?” Believe it or not, you can use the holiday as a chance to ramp up your gratitude practice, or even start one. It’s as simple as grabbing a notebook and pen and taking a few seconds to write down three things you’re grateful for each day – or every few days.
Why? It will make you feel better. “When you express gratitude, you’re essentially trying not to take things for granted in your life,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a UC Riverside psychology professor and author of “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.” She calls gratitude an antidote to negative emotions. “It’s almost impossible to be grateful and jealous at the same time, or to be grateful and bitter or angry at the same time,” Lyubomirsky says. This doesn’t mean pretending that all is right with the world. “We can be grateful but also be focusing on the problems, too,” she says. “It doesn’t mean that you’re passive.”
Here are some expert tips for gratitude journaling success:
Keep expectations reasonable.
Don’t expect an overwhelming epiphany every time you sit down to write in your journal. “It’s not so much that when we practice gratitude we’re trying to have these overwhelming feelings of happiness or joy in any given moment. You don’t have to think that you’re going to be some enlightened guru from a five-minute gratitude journal exercise,” says neuroscientist Glenn Fox, a researcher with the USC Performance Science Institute whose focus is gratitude.
Don’t forget the small stuff.
What you write down need not be earth shattering. “Maybe you have one good sip of coffee before your kid starts crying and you have to warm it up again. That’s me this morning,” says Fox, who has a 6-month-old son. “Take even one short minute to sit there and just find something that is going OK – it could be the socks on your feet, it could be being able to breathe some air, or it even could be gratitude for a memory of a better time. It’s fully OK to take a break from the doom.”
Focus on others.
Gratitude toward others is the easiest kind to muster. “We don’t notice it, but people do things for us all the time,” says Fox. Think of the people who are keeping your utilities running, who deliver your mail, the firefighters and first responders, the people working at the grocery store. “When you pick up a carton of milk out of your fridge, think of the number of people who had to handle that carton of milk, who had to go to work during this time, to put that carton of milk in the store so you could grab it,” he says.
Just keep showing up.
Gratitude journaling is a bit like going to the gym. You don’t see results right away, but over time you can experience dramatic changes. “There might be some days when you go to the gym and you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, but if you keep going, sooner or later there will be some benefits,” says Fox.
Fake it till you make it.
Even if you’re not noticing changes, just keep going. “It might be that writing it down just feels like you’re doing something because you think you should. But even in the latter case, there’s still benefit to it,” Fox says. “Because what you’re actually doing is priming your mind for more things to be grateful for in the future. The point isn’t to feel amazing all the time, it’s to maybe feel better for a millisecond.”
Start now, put in a few minutes every day, and see how thankful you’re feeling by Thanksgiving.