Even with the harsh economic news – jobless rates up and the stock market down – we can still find a lot to be grateful about, especially during the holidays. Families and friends traditionally draw together for support in times of crisis and this year is no different. The gift of appreciation – a heartfelt thank you – can be a daily present this holiday season for those you love. And the cost won’t cut into your tight budget at all.
Why, then, is it so difficult to say thanks? We are often focused on ourselves – Galileo may have proved that the earth revolved around the sun but most of us secretly believe that the world itself revolves around us. It is sometimes hard to pull out of that orbit and become more aware of the contributions of others. And we all tend to take good things for granted. Humans instinctively pay more attention to threats to their safety than they do to situations of security and pleasure. We are less likely to notice supportive behaviors, so positive acts are often ignored.
Other times we think that, by recognizing family members for their generosity, they are less likely to notice what they could appreciate about us. Actually, expressing gratitude leads to positive effects for both the sender and the receiver. But any change in behavior is difficult – and establishing life-long habits takes conscious repetitions. It may be hard to make the commitment to building this new skill, but it is well worth the effort.
Expressing gratitude not only makes others feel better, it also benefits you and your mood. When you focus on what you are grateful for you gain a wide range of benefits. These include sounder sleep, enhanced self-esteem, increased levels of contentment and improved connections with the world around you. Not a bad outcome – especially for a Sandwiched Boomer caught in the midst of parents growing older and children growing up. According to Willie Nelson, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
You need to become aware yourself of what you are thankful for before you can begin to acknowledge the part others play. Here are some steps to help you get started:
1. Begin to consciously notice what brings you joy. Awareness is the first step toward creating change. Set aside time to participate in the process of experiencing and acknowledging your gratitude.
2. Count your blessings. Each evening, note three things that happened during the day for which you are thankful. Be specific as you describe what happened to you. It could be a loving conversation with your partner, a hug from your teenage son, a lunch date with your mother.
3. Re-live and savor each of these events. Spend time re-creating in your mind the happiness of the experience. You will feel your body becoming more relaxed, your emotions more positive and your thoughts more focused. The joys of life are not only in present activities but also in remembering pleasurable occasions.
4. Think about what you did to open yourself to these moments. Then decide to direct your actions to include more of these delights in your life. Recognizing your own personal power will strengthen your belief in yourself as well as your willingness to consider the part others play in your happiness.
5. Realize why this piece of good fortune came your way. It will help you identify the people you’re grateful to have in your life. You can then thank them for playing a part in improving your world.
Deciding to focus on giving thanks means a whole new mindset. As Albert Schweitzer put it, “To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.” When you follow these steps you can act on the gratitude you experience and live a rich life no matter what the economic environment.
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