November is a month between Halloween pumpkins and the cold winter of the holiday season. It’s time we think about Thanksgiving turkey dinners and more importantly, to reflect on what we are thankful for. So, it’s no wonder that November is National Gratitude Month.
Gratitude does not mean ignoring the negative occurrences in life – they are inevitable, but rather focusing on the positive. You can train yourself to be more optimistic by not only appreciating the large incidences, but to appreciate little things that give you a feeling of satisfaction or happiness each day. Take the time to appreciate moments throughout your day that give you satisfaction, like antics of a pet, pretty leaves swirling to the ground, geese flying south, weather, a favorite song, a great parking spot, or a kind word from a salesclerk. It may take you some effort to train yourself to consciously appreciate those little things you took for granted in order to feed your soul some nourishment from these small moments. And you may be healthier in mind and body.
There are many studies on this topic.* Gratitude has been proven to generate a positive impact on psychological, physical, and personal wellbeing. It can even help with depression and anxiety. And you’ll be more prepared to deal with life’s adversities. Studies show that grateful people sleep better, have lower stress levels, exercise more often, and eat healthier. You’ll create greater self-awareness and build stronger relationships as people notice that you are a positive and pleasant person to be around.
There are many ways to cultivate and express gratitude that will not only benefit yourself but spread your new positivity to others. You can say something nice, such as a compliment, word of recognition or thanks to someone. Write your gratitude in an email, letter or journal. Show gratitude with a small gift. Even if you don’t have time to write or shop, thanking someone mentally who has done something nice for you will be of benefit. Invite someone to spend time with you. Mindful meditation such as prayer or focusing on what you are thankful for in that moment. If you can practice these things diligently, you will attain the benefits of gratefulness. November is the perfect month to begin!
* Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. They asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month!