Expressing Gratitude

With the celebration of Thanksgiving, November invites a renewed opportunity to reflect on our own lives and express gratitude to others. In times of turmoil, tunnel vision can be overwhelming, directing attention only to troubled waters and the absence of smooth sailing that feels increasingly elusive. It takes a dedicated approach and sustained practice, especially in this age of over-sharing and seemingly intense scrutiny, to channel positivity. Over and over again, scientists, researchers and psychologists have identified the outward expression of gratitude as a promising method to break cycles of despair, appreciate abundance and improve relationships.

For those heading into the holidays having recently experienced major changes to the family framework, this season can sometimes feel utterly painful with its emphasis on merriment. Professional counseling and support from loved ones are undoubtedly uplifting avenues for self-care and encouragement as you transition to new traditions. So too is a purposeful emphasis on gratitude to fortify positive channels of thought. Though it may sound contrived, believing in the power of positive thinking could be the catalyst that changes your feelings about the months ahead from anxious to optimistic. Here are some creative methods for incorporating gratitude and optimism into your daily life.

As soon as you wake up, think about all the things in your room you enjoy. These could be as simple as the softness of your sheets, to the flowers on your nightstand, to the way the sun comes through the window.

Notice the things you do to care for yourself and thank yourself for doing them. (“Thank you for exercising,” “Thank you for eating plenty of vegetables today,” “Thank you for flossing.”)

Take yourself out to a café and order something “for here.” Drink it slowly and think about all the people who made it possible for you to enjoy your beverage, from the growers all the way to the baristas.

Instead of thinking about what you have to do the next day, let your mind wander at night. Turn off the TV, set down your book, put your phone in another room and just be free to listen to your thoughts without direction. If negative thoughts crop up, don’t try to redirect them. Instead, think of them as cars going by: acknowledge and allow them to move on without stepping in to stop the traffic.

Read or listen to books you truly enjoy. Instead of starting the day with news or emails, listen to something you find uplifting.

Journal in a stream of consciousness. Don’t feel like these need to be long sessions of deep thought. Instead, jot down a few things several times a day, remaining as unfiltered as possible. You may find yourself writing down worries and annoyances or joyful moments you were glad to be a part of. Anything goes.

Rather than making long-term plans, zoom in your focus to just today and think of yourself as a fierce warrior: extremely capable and up for any challenge. Be overly enthusiastic in your self-talk and congratulatory every time you do something you’re proud of, even if it’s getting yourself dressed and out the door or drinking plenty of water.

Try not to eat refined sugar. Sugar is highly addictive, a bodily inflammatory and is shown to increase irritability and anxiety. One of the best, most empowering things you can do for your body and mind is to treat food as medicine. Your food literally becomes your cells. Let this be a motivator for you to be mindful of what you consume.

Treat sleep as a great healer and aim to fully prioritize it. Simplify other areas of your life (a good tip for doing this: If it’s not a “HELL YES!” opportunity, make it a “no.”) so that you don’t find yourself sacrificing sleep for other commitments.

Notice charming things about the loved ones in your life and tell them frequently how great it feels to be around them. Write a note, send a text, cook a meal, buy a surprise gift. Do this as often as you can and anytime someone crosses your mind in a fond way.

Whenever you feel anxious, try putting something cold on your face (an ice cube, a roller, a cloth, a splash of water). Cold water increases production of mood-elevating hormones. You could even take it one step further and try turning the water cold at the end of your showers. It’s an instant source of clarity.

If someone does something kind for you, take longer than you normally would to consider what they’ve done. When you thank him or her, communicate why it made you feel the way you did.

Remove everything from your life that is not serving you. This could start with decluttering your closet or office and extend all the way to stepping away from non-essential activities that you find draining.

Tell yourself every day that you have faith in your journey. Even if you feel wobbly, repeat it until you believe it.

Don’t indulge feelings of guilt or shame. Going backwards is no longer an option, so make peace with the past and declare that you are moving forward, guilt-free and with renewed vigor to try your best every day. That’s all you can do and you are the only person for the job.

When you feel you’ve mistreated someone, genuinely apologize.

Make a new friend with someone who inspires you. Likewise, spend less time (or no time at all) with friends who drain you. This could include cutting out social media if you constantly feel yourself negatively affected by the content you see. Never compare, never despair.

Prove to yourself that happiness is not circumstantial. People often fall into a trap of believing that if they have X amount of money or a certain property or style of clothing or relationship that then they’ll be happy, but find themselves just as lost when they acquire what they were dreaming of. Instead, work everyday on noticing why you already have everything you need.

Track a habit or behavior you’d like to improve. This will help improve your focus and keep you accountable. Treat yourself when you cross milestones.

Give to others spontaneously and generously. Buy someone’s coffee, tithe more that your usual pledge at church, compliment a stranger on her outfit that you love, tip a little extra.

Tell yourself that you are open to abundance through all channels. Be receptive to spontaneous ways good things can happen and believe in your core that you can always get better, a situation can always get brighter and something amazing is just around the corner.