Do We Really Have To Do the Whole Gratitude Thing This Year?
With Thanksgiving just days away, feeling gratitude in 2020 may seem daunting. It has been a rough year, and it’s not over yet. It’s been a year of losses and challenges. Our children lost proms and graduation ceremonies. They lost sport seasons and college tours. They lost sweet 16 parties and homecoming and regular, maskless, normal school. We adults lost a lot, too. Some of us lost our jobs, our social connections are strained, and we haven’t seen our extended families for months on end. So, it takes a lot of nerve for me to talk about gratitude. But I’m going to anyway.
The science behind gratitude
Science tells us that experiencing gratitude can have a lot of benefits, both physical and psychological. Gratitude can strengthen your immune system and lower your blood pressure. It can improve your mood, lower your stress levels, and can help you feel stronger social connections. Dr. Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale, teaches a course called The Science of Well-Being. The course essentially demonstrates that a person has some control over the level of happiness they experience. In her studies, Santos found that experiencing gratitude and sharing that gratitude improved people’s level of happiness significantly.
Finding gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated. It is all about taking the time to notice what you have, and appreciate it. One of my childhood favorites, Mr. Rogers, said “I believe it’s a fact of life that what we have is less important than what we make out of what we have.” Obviously, there are a few things we have gained during this pandemic, like my knowledge about telehealth!
How do you feel grateful every day? It’s the little things
If just “noticing” doesn’t work for you, there are other ways to feel the thanks. Write down five things you are grateful for each day. Or write a letter to someone you are grateful for and share it with that person!
One of my favorite strategies for experiencing gratitude is the “remember when I didn’t have what I have now” technique. I used to drive this terrible red Volvo. It was hideous and loud. It smelled terrible and was truly embarrassing. It’s name was “The Tomato.” At the time, I was super grateful for it, as someone had generously given it to me at a time when I couldn’t afford a car. Even so, every time I got into that car, I longed for the day when I could get myself a less conspicuous ride. Fast forward to 2020; sometimes before I leave my house in the morning, I picture that The Tomato is going to be waiting for me in the driveway. I am overcome with gratitude when I see my pretty, quiet, forgettable SUV.
Thanksgiving is the traditional time to notice what we are grateful for. However, positive psychology suggests that experiencing gratitude only on Thanksgiving probably won’t have lasting effects. Happiness is like a leaky balloon. We have to keep filling it to keep it floating. Experiencing gratitude is something we can do everyday to keep that balloon floating.
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