As children, my mother would ask us to go around the table at Thanksgiving and offer one thing for which we were grateful. At the time, it was easy to list something silly or immediate—the delicious meal, or staying up late because relatives were visiting. As I have gotten older, this is a tradition I have kept when hosting my own Thanksgivings, and it is interesting to see how everyone’s statements have changed. Now we are thankful for good health and happy families – things that mean more than a late bedtime.
But I also have noticed that we share our thoughts on that special day, and then move on with our hectic schedules. The opportunities to sit down and discuss things for which we are grateful are diminishing, as is our acknowledgement of those things. Being actively mindful of the positive aspects of our life is forgotten while we are busy running between appointments, checking emails at lunch with friends, or trying to keep up with the Joneses. We forget to take a breath and be thankful.
Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that we “cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.” By taking time each day to cultivate gratitude, Derrick Carpenter notes in his article, The Science Behind Gratitude (and How It Can Change Your Life), that “people who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.”
In the piece 5 Ways To Be More Grateful Everyday, Meral Kolblinger also emphasizes the idea of mindfulness, recommending that we ‘savor the ordinary’. “If we only value and wait for extraordinary experiences, we will overlook the small, daily ones that can give us just as much pleasure.” By “becoming mindful of your circumstances,” we can learn to appreciate the simple beauty around us. “To start, spend a few days simply pausing when you notice that you are in your head. Next, identify just one nice thing around you and truly take it in.”
Another method to start cultivating gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. In the 2010 article Why Gratitude Is Good, Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, suggests this can be as simple as listing five things every week, “because it consciously, intentionally focuses our attention on developing more grateful thinking and on eliminating ungrateful thoughts.” Dr. Emmons also advocates writing a gratitude thank you letter to someone who has had a positive impact on your life. Additional, simple ways to develop thankfulness includes volunteering, scheduling alone time, physical activity, and reducing the negative comparisons to other people.
While adding another project to your routine may seem overwhelming, there are small steps you can take to increase mindfulness. Anna Dearmon Kornick, Junior League of New Orleans' Communications Council Director, is an advocate for Powersheets, which is “a goal setting workbook that helps you drill down into what is most important to you, and then turn your ideas into actionable goals. Each month, you set aside a day to complete a Cultivating Gratitude worksheet – and the exercise reminds you of everything you have to be thankful for in your life and the progress you’re making toward your goals.”
Cultivating gratitude as a path to happiness is a common theme in mindfulness work. As Gretchen Rubin, the New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project, who writes about happiness and good habits, notes, “[y]ou’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.” By taking a moment to stop and simply appreciate your surroundings—acknowledge the blessings you have in life, or complete a small act of gratitude—whether it’s a thank you note or a volunteer hour, setting small goals can lead to a happier life.