It’s that time of year once again, when families and friends gather for good food, good company and good conversation.  But don’t forget the family bickering, the 17 dishwasher loads of cooking aftermath, the tryptophan hangover and holiday traffic.  It’s likewise the time of battling crowds for “doorbuster” deals, an unproductive work day on Cyber Monday and constant Black Friday ad bombardment.  Also, decorating the house, bemoaning the dumb gift you got in the company Secret Santa exchange, shoveling snow and paying exorbitant heating bills…

Where was I again?  Oh yeah…Thanksgiving.

It’s Thanksgiving and we take some time out of our normal routine to supposedly focus on the good things in our lives.  Its origins in America are well documented but the idea of giving thanks is at the core of the celebration, regardless of how commerce has hijacked it.  If Justin Timberlake can bring sexy back, I say we can bring gratitude back.

Gratitude should not be based on a calendar date but should be a part of our daily routines.  Frequently expressing gratitude, even quietly in your mind, keeps your focus on the things that are going well in your life.  And what you focus on is what directs your thoughts, words and actions.  Have you ever been driving your car and look at the floorboard next to you only to realize you turned the wheel in that direction?  Our thoughts steer our course and taking ownership of your mind can change everything in your life.

In addition to the mental and emotional benefits of a more positive outlook, there are other incentives to up your gratitude immersion.  Newsweek lists the scientific findings that being thankful makes you more hopeful, improves your sleep and self-esteem and raises your empathy for others.  Shape states that gratitude strengthens relationships, improves mental health and makes you feel satisfied with your life.

TODAY reports, “when we think about what we appreciate, the parasympathetic or calming part of the nervous system is triggered and that can have protective benefits on the body, including decreasing cortisol levels and perhaps increasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone involved in relationships that make us feel so good.”  The great news is that even if feeling or expressing gratitude doesn’t come naturally to you, it can be a learned behavior and just the act of doing it can engrain the positive habit.

TODAY also writes about physical benefits, saying that “People who keep a gratitude journal have a reduced dietary fat intake — as much as 25 percent lower. Stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people. And having a daily gratitude practice could actually reduce the effects of aging to the brain.”

Being grateful takes almost no effort and as we’ve seen above, the payoff is enormous.  How often have you seen some normally very kind people act dismissively to a waitress or cashier, simply because they feel entitled to the service?  Did you think differently about that person after witnessing that behavior?  A simple “thank you” goes a long way to someone who feels underappreciated and it’s a great practice to set you on the path to being more gracious.

In America, as stress becomes tougher to manage, as mental health concerns grow and as people continue to isolate themselves from personal interactions in favor of social media and online engagement, changing your personal outlook can have an impact on not only you but also the world around you.  Making gratitude a small part of your daily routine can be an easy way to incorporate countless benefits for yourself and perhaps even start to steer the course for others in a more positive direction.




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