Thankfulness is one of those things we talk about a lot but don’t really do much with. But let’s be real, actually practicing thankfulness is hard. We’ve all been trained to say “thank you,” when strangers hold open doors for us and sending thank-you notes to friends and family, but how to we take our gratitude beyond that?
For Americans, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and so I thought this would be an appropriate time to share these thoughts. I know many of you are reading this from around the world, and so this isn’t just about the holiday of Thanksgiving. Gratitude is a universal concept, after all, and I think everyone can benefit from expressing it a little more often.
Why should we intentionally practice thankfulness, anyway? There are a couple of reasons, but one of them is that being thankful actually helps us. I know that might come across as a bit selfish, but it’s true. Of course, building other people up is very important, which I’ll get to in a minute, but on a more personal level, thankfulness helps us out, too.
At the time I’m writing this, my mind hasn’t been in the best place the last couple of weeks. Winter is starting to set in here in Pennsylvania, and so the temperature is dropping, the days are getting shorter, and school assignments are piling up. For lack of a better term, the “winter blues” have set in, making me feel fatigued, unmotivated, and just overall “bleh.” I don’t say that to garner sympathy from you, but to make a point: We all go through periods when we’re “in a funk,” where things just feel kinda crummy. It’s normal, but it’s awful.
Back in January of this year, I was feeling similarly. I wasn’t sure what was causing it at the time, so I tried a couple of different things to make myself feel better and one of those things was practicing gratitude. I keep a bullet journal, and so I began adding a new page for every month that I titled “Daily Gratitude.” At the end of every day, I open my journal and write down three things I’m grateful for, trying to be specific as possible. Sometimes they’re little things, like cake, unicorn mugs, or the rain, and sometimes they’re big things, like getting my laptop fixed, winning the Superbowl, or that an exam went well. No matter what happened or how I’m feeling, I write down what I’m grateful for every day.
The idea behind it is to practice “looking on the bright side.” I don’t mean blind optimism that just says, “Everything is going to be fine!” without any regard for reality, because that doesn’t help. What we can do, however, is accept that some days are just, overall, not very good, and yet still look for the good in them. It could be as simple as getting out of bed. And yes, some days, this is easier than others. When we start looking for things to be grateful for though, we have a brighter outlook on life even when it feels awful.
Practicing “private gratitude,” can be very helpful, and there’s really no one way to do it. Some people write lists like I mentioned, while others keep separate gratitude journals where they write about all of the things they’re grateful for. Any system works, as long as you’re making a conscious decision to be thankful.
Of course, thankfulness is also beneficial to the other people in our lives. Think of the last time someone thanked you. Not just a “oh, thanks,” but a genuine expression of gratitude. How did it make you feel? Appreciated? Loved? Full? I hope all of those things are true.
If being genuinely thanked made us feel good inside, then the same must hold true for others. So take time to truly thank the people in your life, especially those you might not know very well, or those you know very well. In our close relationships, we sometimes think our gratitude is already assumed, and we don’t express it aloud. In situations with people we’re not very close to, sometimes telling them how thankful we are for them is awkward. Do it anyway. Even if gratitude is assumed, it’s important to verbalize it and show others we really mean it.
And another thing: Be willing to accept the gratitude of others. Too often, when someone thanks us, we brush it off and say, “Oh, don’t mention it,” or “No problem.” We refuse to accept the positive impact we’ve had on others. I do it all the time, and I think we’ve all done it to some extent or another. I think we’re afraid of looking arrogant, but we risk hurting the feelings of others when we ignore their gratitude. Instead, let’s accept the kind things people have to say, and return the favor.
I realize this post has gone in a number of different directions, but my point is, gratitude is something we should all put more thought into practicing. That doesn’t mean going over the top and buying dinner for everyone who’s ever complimented you, but tell people what you meant to them. It’ll lift their spirits and yours too.
I don’t normally do this with my blog posts, but I have a challenge for you: This week, write down at least one thing you’re thankful for every day. Tell a different person every day how much you appreciate them. Come back at the end of the week and tell me how it went!