The idea of Thanksgiving, that is giving thanks, makes it one of my all-time favorite holidays. It has built into it one of the timeless keys to happiness: gratitude. Thanksgiving actually directs us to tune into what we are thankful for. The tradition of sitting around the table hearing each person saying what they are grateful for is a sure way to lift everyone's spirits. From simple gratitude for pumpkin pie with whipped cream to profound appreciation for being alive to share this day, the myriad of expressions are funny, inspiring and very often open our hearts.
The idea of bringing to light what we are grateful for in life is powerful. Automatically we shift from "what is missing in my life" to "what is already there for me to enjoy." The move is from lack to fullness, from "what I am grasping for" to "what I am grateful to already have in place." What we put our attention on grows, and this is true for gratitude as well. When we focus on the blessings in our lives, we tend to notice them more.
Relationships and feeling connected are also important keys to happiness. The opportunity to share positive expressions for one another in a kind and loving way is a soothing balm for day-to-day unconscious eruptions that may occur. The practice of appreciations makes everyone feel better and brings out the best in us all.
Here are three tips to extend that Thanksgiving feeling all year long:
1. Gratitude Dinners: What if you planned a weekly "Gratitude Dinner" where each person shares what they appreciate about the person sitting next to them? This is sure to bring out the best in everyone and can be an island of joy amidst a week of very hectic lives.
2. Gratitude Boosts: What if when you notice those pesky warning signs of a stressful incident just waiting to happen, you just pause to take three deep breaths and with each one, think about something that you are grateful for? Really picture it in your mind and feel it. It could be as simple as I'm grateful for pancakes, or how my dog greets me. It could be a special smile that made your day or that you gave to make someone else's. It could be a small act of kindness, or a conversation that really brought you closer to someone you care about. When stressed out, breathe in gratitude.
3. Gratitude Rewiring: Research has shown that reflecting on people or things we are grateful for helps to not only dissipates stress; it actually helps develop new neural pathways.  When we get into the habit of being grateful, "the neurons that fire together wire together." Although it takes repetition, focusing on gratitude can in time become our go-to reaction.
This Thanksgiving Day, challenge everyone at the table to start a routine of naming a few things they are thankful for every night before going to bed. Consider buddying up with someone at the table to check in on each other's progress over the holiday season. It is a powerful way to extend the Thanksgiving spirit and boost your happiness into the New Year.
What Thanksgiving traditions would you like to put into your life? What are you grateful for, right now?
1. Daniel G. Amen, M.D., Change Your Brain, Change Your Body. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010), 227-228.