With everyone’s favorite turkey-eating and cornucopia-decorating holiday just around the corner, I thought it the best time to share a thought about thankfulness versus gratitude. Although the two ideas are often synonymous, there’s an important distinction between the two. Thankfulness is traditionally defined as an expression of appreciation for things received. Being thankful often involves an external expression of, well, thanks! On the other hand, gratitude is defined much less as an act, but more as an internal experience of gratefulness. When someone is grateful, they may express it outwardly, but they also feel it. During this season of Thanksgiving, I like to call it Gratitude-giving!
Why Gratitude? Research has suggested those who are intentional about practicing gratitude are often more physically healthy. In their gratitude they learn to care more for themselves and for others. They experience a reduction in the effects of toxic emotions, thus avoiding thoughts of envy and resentment. In turn they may experience lower levels of stress and find it easier to forgive others, experience empathy, sleep better and have higher self-esteem. Practicing gratitude can help you become more aware of yourself, others, and a healthier well-being.
The idea of practicing gratitude does not mean a willful ignorance of life’s problems. Life can, in fact, be hard. Trauma, abuse, betrayal, and pain are very real, and for many, pervasive experiences in life. Yet, even in these, gratitude can be a tool for healing. For example, mourning the loss of loved ones is an experience many know and even more so during the holidays. Those who can allow themselves to grieve and seek out ways to practice gratitude learn that one does not negate the other. The human experience is fraught with the paradox that in suffering there is often joy, and in the purest joy there can be sadness.
What are ways that we can learn to practice gratitude?
Be intentional about the smaller moments in your life. Enjoy the smell of a pumpkin spice latte, admire the changing color of leaves on your commute home, or feel the cool air of an autumnal night on your skin. Savor these moments.
Create a gratitude totem
Choose an experience, keepsake, pet, or even a person that when you see it, you remind yourself to find things to feel and express gratitude.
Create a gratitude journal
Spend time writing out the things you have been grateful for that day. Create a daily practice of writing a journal and carry it with you, if needed.
Practice prayers of Gratitude
In your daily life, stop and find ways to express your gratitude to God. One beautiful example is this Lyric from the book of Psalms: I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing praises of the name of the Lord Most High. (Psalms 17:7)
As this holiday season fast approaches and we find ourselves doing all of the festive things we love to do, I challenge you to begin focusing on and practicing gratitude-giving! Living a life steeped in gratitude does more than make you a healthier person, it also effects the people around you – it’s contagious! Make the world a little lighter for yourself and for all the rest of us. Join me in practicing gratitude-giving, and we might just change the world.