By Kelly Jo Fassbinder, Director of Marketing & Communications, Southwest Health
The Oxford Dictionary defines grateful as “showing an appreciation of kindness”. Many of us express gratitude by saying “thank you” to someone who has helped us or given us a gift. But from a scientific perspective, gratitude is not just an action: it is also the positive emotion. It’s a state of being, where you feel a sense of appreciation that comes from deep within.
Positive Psychology research has found neurological reasons why so many people can benefit from this general practice of expressing thanks for our lives, even in time of challenge and change. Gratitude has amazing power to shift us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives. It has the ability to go deeper than the big things, and find even the little things about our days, weeks, and lives that fulfill us.
Research has shown that gratitude can enhance our moods, decrease stress, and improve our overall health and wellbeing. On average, people who are grateful tend to have lower stress-related illnesses, lowered blood pressure, are more physically fit, happier, and have more personal and professional relationships with others.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
We’ve all heard the conversations and comments that we should live everyday showing love to one another like we do on Valentine’s Day. Yet, as we get busy and focused on our day-to-day activities, responsibilities, and requirements… it’s easy for days to turn into weeks, and then months, and we’ve lost sight and priority. Gratitude can be the same way. It’s not that we don’t feel thankful for things, people, or circumstances in our lives, but sometimes our lives get in the way and we lose focus on being grateful.
There are many ways to embrace gratitude. I have a friend, no fail, who every year takes the entire month of November on Facebook and posts something each day that she is grateful for. Here are some other ideas:
- Start a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be long periods of time carved out each day. Just write a quick sentence about someone or something that you were grateful about that day. It can help you find appreciate for things around you, even among the stress from that day. And when you read back on what you’ve written from time to time, you’ll be able to reflect on those relationships or situations in appreciation.
- Share you gratitude with others. Letting someone know you are grateful for their care, service, or friendship often lifts the spirits of others. In the day in age we live in technology, this can be a quick text or email, or you can go old school and write an old-fashioned note.
- Say “please” and “thank you.” It seems like a no-brainer, but these simple words go beyond basic manners. They show respect, kindness, appreciation, and acknowledge someone else’s efforts. You could be the one thank you someone received that day.
- Take the time for mindful reflection. Even if just a few minutes, sitting in silence and solidarity can help you focus on the present moment. It can reduce stress and cultivate the ability to be present in the moment and teach you to accept yourself and circumstances.
One of my favorite activities we have done as a family in the past at Thanksgiving is a gratitude box. Each person around the table has a cute little box that sits on their plate and is decorated with a little tag with their name on it. Inside are several little slips of paper collected from the weeks before, nestled and folded up with gratitude. I ask each person that is coming to dinner to write one thing they are grateful for about each other person.
As we each take turns opening our boxes and reading the contents inside, smiles form on faces, appreciation starts to glow, and everyone feels uplifted. Never do these boxes contain mention of material things. These little slips of paper shine with thankfulness for traits, how we treat each other, feelings we give to each other, or how we have made each other feel love, support, or happiness.
I’m also reminded that just as easy as it is to lose focus on gratitude, it’s easy to forget that even the little things we do have an impact on others. It is not unusual to have the contents of these boxes share things as simple as “I am thankful that for your humor,” “I am thankful for your smile,” “I am thankful that I always feel you have time for me.” Who knew your smile, or your quick and witty humor could be something another is thankful for?
One of the most special persons I had the honor to share my life with was my grandmother. A true matriarch, she embodied gratitude. She was consistent in telling those around her how much she appreciated them, found joy in every day, and loved life. She was also witty, funny, simple, selfless, and one of the strongest women I have ever known.
For her 95th birthday, we decided to share our gratitude as a gift to her. Grabbing different colored sheets of paper, my husband started to cut them into 95 different strips, while our two girls each took a piece of lined paper and started numbering 1-95. We sat at the kitchen table and each contributed to a list of 95 things we were grateful for about her. After compiling our list, we each took papers and wrote all 95 things, folded each paper in half, and placed them in a clear mason jar. We joined her for BINGO for her birthday and presented her with our gift. True to humble form, she couldn’t imagine we could even come up with 95 separate things we were grateful for about her. And also, true to form, although instructed that she could open one each day as a reminder, she went home that night and opened them all up!
When she passed, I got this jar back. It sits on a shelf in my office and is a colorful reminder of at least 95 ways that we can make a difference and love others in such a way they are grateful for us.
So what are you waiting for? Give gratitude a try! You’ll be happier you did.