We all seek unity, interconnectedness and happiness, but we have come to associate feelings of warmth and gratitude mainly with Thanksgiving, other holidays and major life events.
As a therapist and believer in the importance of living a fulfilling and contented life, I encourage everyone I meet to start practicing active thanksgiving that goes well beyond the November holiday and religious services. This is not about feeling thankful when something great happens, but a regular part of every day—even the most challenging ones—especially unhappy days!
In my work, I see many people in pain, struggling to cope daily. They may be dealing with a terminally ill parent, a child facing problems in school, an unwanted divorce or the loss of a friend or financial investments. It is difficult to introduce the benefits of thanksgiving to someone in crisis. That is why I encourage everyone to learn and use this tool immediately and often. Thanksgiving as a consistent part of your life will not only bring in more positive experiences, but it will arm you with stronger defenses for the hard times that are inevitable in life.
Even when things seem to be humming along, it is easy to become discouraged by simply watching the news or reading something tragic. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in this hyper-connected world we all live in. Thanksgiving will help you tune out the disconcerting chatter in your head and promote a sense of calm and focus.
By consciously focusing on those people who give us support and care; life circumstances that make us feel lucky and blessed; and any experiences that bring us joy and satisfaction, we are sure to find ourselves in a happier, more productive state. Once you have experienced the positive effects of thanksgiving, you can deliver what I like to call conscious acts of gratitude.
Here are some of my favorites:
Social media shoutouts—public thanks to a friend who helped you, a mate who made you smile, a child who has made you proud.
Gushing appreciation notes—Post-its, Post-its, everywhere! Grab a stack of those little sticky notes and write terms of endearment on 10 or 20. Hide them around the house. Leave the recipient wondering, “Will this gushing of appreciation ever end?”
Take it upon yourself to do someone’s mundane household chore. Do this act quickly, quietly and as an expression of gratitude–not to score points or earn some gratitude of your own, but to show that someone cares enough to take a task off their list.
Do something that’s surprising or special—bring someone a book from a favorite author or a trail of rose petals leading up to their door with a sign that says “Thank You!”
Thanksgiving is not necessarily directed at another person. It is a state of mind to be cultivated inside your own head. If you practice regularly thinking thankful thoughts, they will lighten your mood and likely put a smile on your face–whether anyone knows you are doing it or not. Giving thanks works as a magnet: It redirects your feelings into a positive zone.
Most of us know that having a positive state of mind is good for us emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually. There are also often secondary gains as well. Your upbeat state of mind can impact how others feel about you and treat you.
Last fall, I worked with a client I’ll call Karen. Karen was a 42-year-old single woman who almost always spent the holidays alone. When we met in October, Karen was depressed. Another holiday season was fast approaching, and she was certain she would be by herself. She spent her first session with me talking about her isolated and lonely life, her failed relationships, her financial struggles and her dead-end job. Apparently, Karen was thankful for nothing.
Still, after some probing, I discovered that she had two friends whom she felt close to; she really liked her boss and she loved listening through her apartment wall to her neighbor playing the piano. I assigned Karen to practice thanksgiving daily toward one of the few precious things in her life we had discovered. She was then to perform some conscious act of gratitude. By December, each person in her life she was thankful for had invited her to an activity over the holidays, and she had even found herself a love interest!
Welcoming thanksgiving and gratitude into your life promotes feelings of calm and warmth. Thanksgiving makes you feel more motivated, enthusiastic, driven and satisfied. It wards off the blues and negative thinking. People who have an established thanksgiving ritual enjoy more friends, less conflict at work, raise happier children and enjoy more satisfying romantic relationships.
Thanksgiving requires very little time, money or skill, yet offers enormous rewards. Don’t just take my word for the magic that comes out of thanksgiving. Make a commitment that you will find a way to observe the wonderful and meaningful people and parts of your life, and give thanks every day for a week…you’ll see what happens.
In case you were wondering, I personally count my blessings and give thanks every single day. And so I don’t give Turkey Day short shrift, I count everything I’m thankful for on that day twice!
Stacy Kaiser is a successful Southern California-based licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. With more than 100 television appearances on major networks, including CNN, NBC, CBS and FOX, Stacy has built a reputation for bringing a unique mix of thoughtful and provocative insights to a wide range of topics. You can learn more about Stacy on her website.