Thanksgiving is coming just in time this year. I’m feeling the cold weather, it’s dark at 5pm, and there’s a lot on the calendar. It can be easy to get caught up in the challenges and difficulties of life, and focus only on what seems to be a problem. This holiday reminds us to change that perspective and take in what’s good right now. Thanksgiving is about gratitude, after all. In order to offer thanks, we first need to acknowledge all the blessings we have in life. When you get started doing that, hopefully you will find that one day feels too short.
I have written about gratitude practice the last couple of Thanksgivings, and it’s starting to feel like an annual tradition. It is definitely a yearly reminder for me to keep up with my own practice, because it can be a challenge to stick with things, even when they are good for us. And regular gratitude practice is definitely good for us! It improves the mood and promotes compassion, both toward others and ourselves.
This one simple practice also helps counteract the natural tendency of the human brain to focus on the negative. We preferentially store information about threats or danger, including non-life-threatening events such as a negative review at work or mean comments someone made about us once in high school. This is the stuff that usually sits front and center in our memories, ready to come up any time we need to be reminded that the world can be dangerous. We have to deliberately hold onto good things in order to give them space in our minds. The positive focus of gratitude is one way to do this.
Gratitude practice is simple and doesn’t take much time. I like to do it before bed each night, as a way to quiet any negative or worrisome thoughts. Some people prefer to do it first thing in the morning, as a way to set the tone for their day. Choose a time that works well for you, and simply sit or lie comfortably and spend a few moments focusing on your breath. Then bring to mind 5 things for which you are grateful today. They don’t have to be huge things like winning the lottery (although we would surely be grateful if that happened!), the key is to notice and cultivate gratitude for even the small things. Hold each thing in your mind for a few breaths, focusing on the sensations each one brings into your body. Perhaps you feel a warmth around your heart center or in your lower abdomen. Acknowledge your gratitude, then move on to the next item on your list. Finish by focusing on your breath for a few more moments.
This lovely practice may begin to seep into other parts of your day. You may find yourself actively looking for good things and expressing gratitude on the spot. You may notice you feel more compassion towards others, or an urge to offer kindness to a stranger. Try this practice daily for a few weeks and see what you notice. It can become a cherished part of each day, and a way to practice Thanksgiving throughout the year.