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The Beginner's Guide to Gratitude

Memorial Heights Counseling Houston | Counseling for Individuals, Couples, and Families in Houston

For many of us, by the time you’ve prepared your home for guests, cooked a delicious meal, and finally served the turkey, you are far too worn out to fully experience the “thanks” part of Thanksgiving. It can be hard to feel particularly grateful when you’ve burnt the green bean casserole and your uncle won’t stop giving his (loud) opinions on the recent election. Finding time to be thankful can feel like just another unrealistic demand on your already overtaxed holiday schedule.

Taking time to be grateful is so much more than an annual Thanksgiving obligation or holiday box to check. Gratitude is one of the best ways to deepen your sense of meaning and connectedness to others. Research has shown that intentionally practicing gratitude daily can result in many personal benefits, including having a more positive outlook on life, exhibiting qualities associated with emotional maturity, and generally feeling happier. Grateful people report experiencing more joy and meaning in their lives. For people in relationships, practicing gratitude was connected to feeling better able to discuss concerns in an open and healthy manner. One study even discovered that people who practiced gratitude tended to exercise more and have fewer trips to their physician!

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown discusses her research on people who describe themselves as joyful. She found that these joyful people actively practiced gratitude in their day to day lives. This active practice of gratitude is different than simply having an “attitude of gratitude.” Brown discovered that these joyful people were intentional about practicing gratitude daily—and viewed gratitude as an action rather than a mindset.

Practicing gratitude can be a vulnerable experience, though. Many of us are hesitant to pause and take stock of the wonderful things and people we have in our lives. Sometimes, we worry that if we let ourselves appreciate life’s gifts, we may be inviting hurt into our lives or setting ourselves up for a painful loss. Many of us would rather not feel joy than feel it and lose it. We fear that what we are experiencing is too good to be true, so we choose to numb out as a way to avoid potential pain. Allowing ourselves to take a risk and embrace the vulnerability that comes with being aware of our treasures is a brave act that will bring more joy to our lives than hurt.

As you take some time to reflect on the gifts in your life this Thanksgiving week, consider adding some form of gratitude practice to your day. Here are some ways you could practice gratitude this week:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. Each day, jot down several things you are thankful for. These things can be big and general (I’m grateful for my spouse) or seemingly small and specific (I’m grateful for this morning’s latte). Every now and then, take a moment to review your gratitude list and remember the joys in your life.

  2. Write someone a thank you note. Expressing gratitude to another person can deepen your connection with them and spread your joy to others. Writing down what you are thankful for in a thank you note will help you mark and remember how those around you have contributed to your life.

  3. Try a gratitude meditation. There are many excellent mindfulness practices that incorporate a deep awareness of the many gifts in your life for which you are grateful. Take some time to meditate on the people and things in your life that bring you joy, expressing thankfulness in your own mind and heart for each and every one that comes to your awareness.

Whatever you do to celebrate, make this Thanksgiving one where you truly do take the time to practice gratitude in your daily life. You may discover that, even though expressing gratitude can feel like a risk at times, the rewards of more joy, openness, and connection are more than worth it.

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