As we begin the month of November, gratefulness is an obvious focus of our attention. In addition to celebrating the holiday of Thanksgiving, this month we also have Veteran’s Day, a time to be thankful to all the men and women who serve our country.
Gratefulness is not just saying Thank You to someone for doing something nice for us, although that is important, and is probably one of the first socialized behaviors many of us learn in toddlerhood. Gratefulness is a state of being, an awareness of the abundance of life, an acknowledgement of the silver linings even in what might appear to be challenging situations. It is appreciation of all things large in small, like someone letting us into a line of traffic, enough cream left in the fridge to make your perfect cup of coffee, or the blessing of just waking up in the morning to a new day.
A few years ago I took a course at Kripalu on Positive Psychology, with Tal Ben-Shahar, author of Happiness. The biggest takeaway from this amazing weekend, was the connection between our ability to connect to our gratefulness, and our ability to experience happiness. The more authentically grateful we can feel, the more we look for things to be thankful for…even about the smallest things, the more positive our outlook becomes. Why? Because the more tuned in we are to something, the more we see it!
I remember when I pregnant, and everywhere I saw pregnant women. Everywhere! I could not believe how many people were pregnant! But after my daughter was born, I couldn’t believe how many babies there were. I didn’t see any more pregnant women… just babies! Because what had become important and a focus of my life, became what I saw everywhere.
So,when we focus on gratefulness, we begin to see more things to be grateful for… and when are grateful (for the parking space, the green light, or sun breaking through the clouds) we begin to wire more positivity into our brain and increase our happiness! Voila!
So, this might sound simple… and it is. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. Changing behavior is not a matter of willpower, it requires a change of habit, creating new rituals for ourselves. And instead of waiting to make a New Year’s resolution (which we never keep), how about using the month of November to begin a new ritual for yourself…. and create a habit of becoming grateful.
My favorite way, suggested at the aforementioned Kripalu workshop, is keeping a gratefulness journal. Each night, after your “ritual” of brushing your teeth and climbing into bed, add one more piece: Write down 10 things you are grateful for the past day. It can be as simple as the comfort of your bed, the delicious cup of coffee at breakfast, the love of your family, or the fact that you are following through on writing down what you are grateful for! … it doesn’t matter what it is. But just authentically feel gratitude… in your heart, as if it is happening in that moment. This will start new patterns in your brain, in your focus, in your attitude. Try it this month… and let me know how it works for you.
Want to delve deeper into this connection between happiness and gratitude? Check out this article from Harvard Health Publishing: Giving Thanks can Make you Happier.
And by the way… if you have read this far… I am truly grateful. Have a wonderful day!