Want to Be More Thankful? Try This!

With Thanksgiving less than a month away, people are mentioning all the things they are thankful for.  Do you know the very act of expressing thankfulness can improve your overall health, even if you aren’t sincere in that expression?

Robert A. Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis pioneered research on the benefits of positive thinking.  Emmons quoted studies that indicated that even pretending to be thankful raises levels of the chemicals associated with pleasure and contentment: serotonin and dopamine.  Live as if you feel gratitude, he said, and soon the real thing will come.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, recommends a way to appreciate what you have by “taking time off from something you love but take for granted.”  For example, take the bus instead of your car.  Ever tried to give up T.V., your cell phone, sugar – or COFFEE (no!!!!)?  If you were able to give up any of these things (or any other little thing that you value) for even a short time did you appreciate them much more after the fact?  Do you realize that you even have access to these things makes you among the richest of people in the world?  Just another reason to be thankful, right?

So maybe it’s easy to realize how grateful we are for a steaming, hot cup of coffee or our cell phones after we’ve gone without them for a short time.  But how does having an attitude of gratitude help a friend with cancer? Or someone who’s having marital problems?  Or someone who can’t find a job and is struggling financially?  Seems a lot tougher, doesn’t it?

“Gratitude is never as important as during those times when everything appears to be lost,” according to Emmons.  Finding something to appreciate, he said, can save us from absolute despair – in a way that abject complaining cannot.

David Hochman, who wrote a Reader’s Digest article entitled “How to Be Thankful and Improve Your Life”, shared his experience of being grateful when one of his close friends was battling cancer.

“I discovered that truth when I began driving my friend with lymphoma to the hospital for his chemotherapy treatments.  Despite his suffering (or perhaps because of it), our connection grew more meaningful. ‘I realized when I got sick that I’d spent years worrying about things that mean absolutely nothing,’ he told me.  Celebrating life while it’s here, he said, was most important now.”

Sometimes, it’s those extremely tough moments that help up realize what really matters in life and what we are most thankful for:  health, family, friends, and even life itself.

One other thing that Hochman shares in his article was something suggested to him by Martin E. Seligman, the author of Authentic HappinessSeligman told Hochman that “overdoing” gratitude causes it to lose its meaning, or even worse, become a chore.

Hochman relates “Seligman suggested a ‘gratitude visit’.”  Think of a person who has made a major difference in your life and whom you’ve never properly thanked.  Compose a detailed letter to him or her that expresses your appreciation in concrete terms, then read it aloud, face-to-face.  ‘It’s very moving for the giver and the receiver,’ Seligman told me. ‘Be prepared for tears.’”

Something to think about, isn’t it?  Have you expressed gratitude to someone who’s made a difference in your life by doing this?  If so, I would love to know how it went.  Feel free to tell me in the comments area.

I know this has been a long blog post.  So you can add another thing that you’re grateful for.  I’m getting ready for my conclusion!  Hochman ends his article on thankfulness by suggesting three actions you can take to become more thankful and by doing so, improve your life.

Here’s Hochman’s List:

3 Easy Ways to Tune Up Your ’Tude

1. Visualize It Create a collage of what you are grate­ful for, and display it in a prominent place in your home. One technique that works especially well with children, Emmons says, is creating a thank-you “tree” on a refrigerator or wall and adding Post-it note “leaves” every day to acknowledge everything from a new sibling to a walk with the dog.

2. Ask These Questions Choose someone close to you, and ask yourself the following: • What have I received from her? • What have I given her? • What trouble have I caused her? Says Emmons, “This may lead to discovering you owe others more than you thought.”

3. Go Weekly Focusing on gratitude once a week is often more effective than doing it more frequently, according to Lyubomirsky. She compared subjects who kept gratitude journals three times a week with others who did so only once a week. The result: The once-a-week crowd became happier over time. “But choose what fits you personally,” she says.

My suggestion is do one, do all three – or do whatever you want to do to show gratitude for all your blessings!  I’m planning on doing just that, not only in November, but regularly.


The references in this blog are from the article How to be Thankful and Improve Your Life.  Check it out!


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