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Practicing Gratitude

A Thankful Life

When I was young, our family would start Thanksgiving dinner each year with the same, wonderful tradition. One by one, we would go around the table and express several things we each were grateful for within the last year. The list varied from conquering a major illness to connecting with an old friend. By the time everyone had their turn, we all felt pretty good about what we had experienced as a family in the last 12 months. 

Maybe your family has a similar tradition around the holidays. How do you keep that same spirit of Thanksgiving alive throughout the year? Expressing gratitude can be simple or a complex set of practices you add to your routine. Here are some ideas to help you practice gratitude this season and throughout the coming year. 

  1. Share gratitude. Expressing thanks to coworkers and friends can significantly strengthen your relationships. It can foster better communication, build trust, and create a deeper level of understanding between people. It also opens doors to enhanced connections. No sentiment of thanks is too small to help others see their worth. 
  2. Reflect on successes. To see how well things are going now, it’s important to remember where you were a year ago or longer. Remember the struggles you encountered, and consider how far you have come. 
  3. Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a daily practice--perhaps before bedtime or during your morning coffee. Remind yourself of the good things that have happened during the last day. You’ll be amazed when you go back and read the entries a month or a year from now. There are so many reasons to be thankful every day. 
  4. Use your senses to appreciate the world around you. Gratitude can be as simple as stepping outside in the fresh air, closing your eyes, and enjoying the feeling of the breeze on your cheek or the smell of nearby trees...or maybe the bakery down the street. Love hiking? Make the time to do fun, short weekend trips. Recognize and appreciate the little things that surround you and make you happy.
  5. Write thank you notes. It may seem outdated, but it’s amazing how incredible you make someone feel when you write an authentic, heartfelt, hand-written note to someone in appreciation for something they did. It will help them feel valued, while also boosting your spirits, knowing you’ve made sure someone knows how special they are to you. An emailed thank you note can also make a positive impact on a person’s day. The fact that you took the time to recognize something wonderful about another person can be magical for both of you. 

Showing gratitude is not just a nice thing to do. It’s been scientifically proven to make a difference in improved sleep and overall mental health. A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being showed that spending time writing statements of gratitude before going to bed had a positive impact on sleep patterns.

Not sure how to start living a more gratitude-filled life? Start small by putting your phone away in the last 10 minutes before you go to sleep. Close your eyes and mentally list three things you are thankful for today. It could be as simple as how much you enjoyed dessert after dinner. Relishing in that grateful spirit toward life will quickly help you notice and appreciate even more of the wonderful things around you. Be open to the amazing things that can happen every day. As Maya Angelou said, “This a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before.” 

In addition to being the editor and a writer for Arvada Lifestyle Magazine, Allison Bankston is a yoga instructor and meditation coach.