Gratitude… More than just a holiday?

It is upon us! Thanksgiving is in just a couple of short days and, while the original historical background of Thanksgiving is controversial, it remains my favorite holiday. If we look at Thanksgiving in completely modern terms it has become a holiday of excess. Too much food. Shopping instead of family. Capitalism. Overall, it has been a holiday celebrating successful harvest, has been called a holiday commemorating the beginning of the persecution of the Native Americans, has been about a giant rock on the East Coast, getting great deals on shopping, gluttony, and- I am going to propose- Gratitude.

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Gratitude is the main reason Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a time for family and friends to gather together over a meal (modest or grand) and be grateful for the blessings of the year and for each other. Gratitude is a choice and by choosing to express it, we improve ourselves.

I was reading an article in the New York times about gratitude that cited studies demonstrating that people are genuinely happier when they choose gratitude. Not to mention that the brain, when studied with fMRI actually fires differently for pride and gratitude than with anger or jealousy. This indicates that we have the ability to use neuroplasticity to change our brains to be wired for gratitude.

What could this mean for us!? As individuals, choosing to be thankful and positive means enriching our own lives. As members of society, making this same choice means that those around us benefit from our gratitude. When we elevate the positive, we tip the balance in favor of light.

As the great Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It can be difficult to choose gratitude when things seem dark or hard. I mentioned on Facebook last week, one way to choose gratitude is to remind ourselves. You can use a gratitude journal where you list 3 things you are grateful for each morning. (I like to enhance this with 3 things that I am excited about and also 1 thing I will do for myself that day) Sometimes this is incredibly hard and I fall back on some classic things to be grateful for like family, shelter, education, my silly cats. Other times I am truly moved by the world around me into a place of profound gratitude and I can’t stop at 3. My planner also has a column for “Good Things That Happened” AKA Gratitude!!! If structured journaling isn’t your thing, try creating a list like this that contains things that are positive from your life/week. One of the benefits of writing it down is this: when times are the hardest or things seem to be the darkest, you can look back and see all that you have to be grateful for.

Choosing gratitude is more than a holiday, though Thanksgiving is an excellent excuse to start your practice. If you happen to be at my house for Thanksgiving, on the table is a sheet of brown paper and crayons instead of place mats. This provides an excellent excuse ample opportunity to make hand turkeys or to write down what you have to be grateful for.

I am thankful for so many things and people in my life- I am even thankful for you (whether we have met or not).

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