Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year. When I was younger, all the family got together for a feast with so many options from turkey, ham, cranberries, cornbread, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, several pie options, and much more. My mouth is watering just thinking about it all.
As I entered adulthood and wasn’t always home for the holiday, a friend or colleague would always invite me to their feast. No matter the location or the people, I always enjoyed when everyone would go around and say why they were thankful.
Gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to feel positive emotions and strong bonds with others. Sharing what you’re thankful for with others releases a host of neurochemicals in your brain that fill you with happiness and bonds you with others.
Now you don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to do a dinner time gratitude practice. I love visiting one of my friends and her family for dinner as they hold hands around the table and each person says why they are thankful every evening. My friend always says having me visit for dinner, which makes me feel very welcome and loved.
Meditators who practice loving kindness meditation know the power of this type of gratitude and the gratitude of others. Loving kindness meditation is when you spend your meditation time thinking of others and sending them your appreciation for being in your life while wishing them wellness, even people you are having trouble with, especially people you are having trouble with. The practice helps develop empathy and creates positive mental associations with others.
In fact, studies have shown that when you give a gift to someone, the giver of the gift gets more of the gratitude benefit than the person receiving the gift. All that time spent thinking about the other person and what to give them as well as wrapping up the gift and the anticipation of giving them the gift is all time spent building a positive mental association with the other person. Yes, the receiver will be happy to get something, but have you ever thought, if they only knew how much time I put into selecting that gift! They could never know the amount of loving kindness you felt through all the time you spent thinking about them.
Gratitude is an intrinsically blossoming phenomenon. It’s emotional response creates bridges and connections that showcase the best of who you are.
Because of it’s power, giving thanks shouldn’t be a once a year practice. Building a gratitude habit will ripple throughout your entire life affecting everything around you.
A woman I was coaching earlier this year, who we will call Rose, asked how to build a gratitude habit into her day as she wanted to build more intimacy with her husband. After a number of years of marriage, Rose felt like this area of their relationship needed some cultivation. So she decided on an evening gratitude practice. When they went to close their eyes for the evening, she would gently put her hand on his arm and say I love you. The act was to have the last moment of her day before her brain went into its unconscious organizing be set around remembering her intimacy and love for her husband.
An intentional final thought of the day is such a powerful way to build strong neural connections in your brain. Now the idea was for Rose to build a habit to help her develop more intimacy, but something unexpected happened. As the week went on, she noticed her husband acting differently. In small ways she started to notice gestures of kindness from him during their day time together. Unconsciously in response to her gratitude habit, Rose’s husband was becoming more intimate with her.
Her gratitude habit had a ripple affect, and it’s an affect you too can create for your daily life. It begins as Rose did when your head hits the pillow at night. This is your anchor habit to remember to begin your gratitude practice.
When your head hits the pillow, ask yourself what you are grateful for today. Not only does this frame your day around gratitude as your brain’s default network works to organize your memories, it relaxes anxieties to help you fall asleep.
Intentionally, I didn’t mention one final step Rose took every night after she showed intimate gratitude toward her husband. It’s a small, but powerful step that releases just a bit of dopamine, that powerful neurochemical which helps the brain form new habits and has the benefit of making you feel good as you end your day. As Rose finished her gratitude practice, she allowed a smile to come across her face, the celebration of a successful gratitude practice, the release of habit forming dopamine, and the satisfaction of another day of life.
As you enjoy your Thanksgiving and share your thanks with those around you this year, allow yourself a smile and let your head hit the pillow each night with a new practice of gratitude.