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What do you think of when you hear the word Thanksgiving? For many, this word instantly brings up images of turkey, pumpkin pie, or special family traditions. In the midst of the festivities, many will take a moment to express appreciation for what is important.
It's great to have a holiday in which we stop and give thanks once a year. However, we can benefit even more from practicing “thanksgiving” throughout the year. Research shows that consistent gratitude practice has a positive impact on mental and physical health.
Gratitude is the practice of reflecting on the positives and allowing yourself to experience positive emotions, including appreciation, joy, and satisfaction. There are many ways to practice gratitude. Journaling at the end of the day, making a point to notice and appreciate the small things, and discussing what we appreciate are examples of practicing gratitude. There are also many structured gratitude exercises that can be found online.
Many people have asked me what kind of gratitude exercise is the best. The simple answer is this:
The best gratitude exercise is the one that you will do.
Despite having great intentions, many do not consistently practice healthy behaviors. Research shows that even after experiencing positive effects, people often stop their gratitude practice after several weeks. Why is this? When we are doing well we don’t think about self-care and maintaining mental health. It’s easy to let those things slide, and there are rarely immediate consequences of this slacking. Therefore, finding a practice you are likely to stick with is crucial.
Why practice gratitude? Science shows that our brains have a “negativity bias.” This means that we pay more attention to negative or threatening information rather than positive information. This negativity bias can help keep us safe and avoid negative consequences, but it is harmful to mental health. By practicing gratitude, you can help offset your brain’s negativity bias and increase positive emotions, which will translate to better mental health.
With gratitude practice, specific is better than general. Family, health, and friends are commonly appreciated during Thanksgiving. When practicing gratitude, focusing on specific areas will produce stronger positive emotions and lead to better outcomes. You can take a general concept and make it more specific. For example, are you thankful for friends? Notice one thing a friend did that made you feel loved and appreciated. Think deeply about what makes you feel thankful for this friend. Do you feel a broad thankfulness about nature? Notice something beautiful in nature such as a flower blooming, and take a moment to reflect and truly appreciate that. Are you thankful for your health? Think about what you are able to do because of your health, and truly appreciate what your body can do.
Are you ready to have Thanksgiving all year long? Try taking five minutes a day to practice gratitude. The results will be more valuable than turkey or pumpkin pie.
Dr. Becker is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Waco, TX. She provides counseling to adults and adolescents dealing with depression, anxiety, relationship concerns, and life stress. Dr. Becker is passionate about helping others, and she believes that counseling is beneficial for anyone who desires to have a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life. You can reach her by visiting her website, blog or Facebook page.