As we approach the holiday season, we usually start to emphasize the things that we feel the most grateful for. We cherish our time with our families in a deeper way, we reflect on our successes and losses of the year with more appreciation, and we spend more time trying to center ourselves around gratitude.
Most of us associate gratitude with saying “thank you” to someone who has helped us or given us a gift. From a scientific perspective, gratitude is not just an action. Gratitude is a positive emotion, an emotion that actually serves a purpose.
Gratitude has the power to physically changes your brain. Researchers at the University of Indiana asked 21 people to write letters of gratitude every week for 3 months. At the end of the 3 months, they scanned the brains of those 21 people as well as 21 people who hadn’t written any letters. The people who wrote letters actually had more brain activity than people who didn’t. They found that we actually have a gratitude muscle in our brains that can be exercised and strengthened. The more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come.
There are hundreds of stories that will circulate about gratitude and thankfulness during this time of the year. But I want you to think about the most grateful moment you’ve felt in your life. How old were you when you were first flooded with gratitude? Where were you? What happened?
Maybe you felt flushed with gratitude when you finally got accepted into that school. Maybe you felt gratitude when you landed your dream job that would open a whole new world for you. Maybe you felt gratitude when you met your soulmate, or saw your child be born. No matter who you are or what you’ve gone through this year, you’ve felt gratitude in your life.
When I reflect on my life during the holiday season, I can’t even begin to count the things I am grateful for. I am grateful for every person in my life. I am grateful for every success I’ve had. And I am grateful for every loss I’ve experienced, because it only pushed me towards becoming a better version of myself.
This season provides us an opportunity to evaluate our own gratitude practice, to attempt to feel grateful despite the year we’ve had. You may have felt hurt this year, or pain, or disappointment. Feeling gratitude is not always easy, but it is always worth trying. Gretchen Lidicker delved into the incredible power of gratitude to increase our well-being, prevent disease, and even help us heal from trauma.
One of my favorite quotes of all time that I always think about during this time of year, is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Gratitude should be weaved into our lives every single day. No matter the season, and no matter the circumstance.
So, here’s how you can incorporate gratitude into your life every single day starting now.
- Appreciate everything with an open mind.
The most successful people have always lived with a mind opened to possibility. Gratitude doesn’t have to be saved for the “big” things in life. The habit of being grateful starts with appreciating every good thing in life and recognizing that there is nothing too small for you to be thankful for. Even if it is as simple as appreciating a day without rain, or how your child aced their spelling test that week. Don’t leave anything out when practicing your gratitude.
- Learn to love your challenges.
Gratitude is not only about being thankful for positive experiences. In fact, sometimes thinking about negative or difficult situations can help to really nail down what you have to be thankful for.Western Buddhist master Jack Kornfield remembers an exercise he did with a man who was caring for his grandson while his son and daughter-in-law battled a drug addiction. Despite all that he had been through, the man was still able to find gratitude for the amount of compassion he had learned to show and the impact he was able to have on other people. Dig a little deeper into some of your own past experiences and try to figure out how they have helped shape you into the person you are today.
- Improve happiness in the areas of your life that you don’t always think about.
Being grateful can make you happy, but being happy can also make you grateful. There are plenty of other ways to get your mood up, including exercising or participating in a hobby you enjoy. Once you are feeling the endorphins flow, showing gratitude will become even easier and you’ll start to be able to make list after list of all of the things in your life you’re thankful for.
At FPG, we define gratitude as the unyielding fuel for courage. When you are able to stop and appreciate where you are at every single moment, no matter how uncertain it may feel, you will ignite a fire of gratitude that will carry you through your journey. I know you are someone who wants to live your life to the fullest. But you will never be able to live your life the way you want to if you can’t learn to be grateful for every moment.
Always choose gratitude. Not just because of the season, and not just because things are going well in your life. Reflect on every event that shaped you into the person you are today. Reflect on every setback, and every win. When you think of gratitude as the unyielding fuel for courage, you will be able to remove yourself from any leashes and truly become a better version of you.