I like to view Thanksgiving as a national celebration of gratitude. Three years ago on Thanksgiving Day, I started a new family tradition: I asked everyone present at the dinner table to share a few things they’re most grateful for and write them down on a colorful leaf cutout. Each year, I ask my friends and family to add another leaf. I adorn our Christmas tree with this colorful gratitude garland. Last Thanksgiving when I asked my then two-year-old daughter to decorate her leaf, she added sparkles and glittery gems. When it came time to help her write her message of gratitude on the back, I asked her, “what makes you happy?”. She replied, “Purple!”. It truly is all of the little things that make life so beautiful.
Since then, our family shares “happy things” during dinner, year ’round. It’s so cool – our daughter looks forward to our evening tradition and usually initiates the daily gratitude conversation.
Over time, I’ve learned something that is so ridiculously simple: that happiness is a choice. Even during intensely difficult times (caring for my mom during her long, debilitating illness and mourning her resulting death, for instance), I realized that I could be happy anyway. It isn’t circumstance that dictates whether I live a happy life — rather, it is a matter of choice. I can succumb to sadness and overwhelm or I can choose to focus on gratitude, love and happiness. I’ve witnessed that by focusing my thoughts on the happy things, rather than those that sadden me or stress me out, I attract more positive circumstances and contentment to my life. This simple act of gratitude literally transforms my experiences.
How do I change my focus? I make it my mission to look for at least five things each day that make my heart melt, my soul sing and my smile widen. I actively search for things to add to my list. By doing so, my focus changes and in turn, so does my mood. It doesn’t always come easy– I’m genetically predisposed to clinical depression. I’ve learned that happiness takes practice. With practice, I develop a HABIT of feeling happy.
“In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy.”
— Albert Clarke
For the skeptics in the bunch, I’d like to point out that the power of gratitude is PROVEN. Two psychologists say their Research Project on Gratitude and Thanksgiving indicates that gratitude plays a significant role in a person’s sense of well-being:
“The study required several hundred people in three different groups to keep daily diaries. The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day, while the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences. The last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.
The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved. McCollough and Emmons also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another.”
Furthermore, happy people MAKE MORE MONEY! Newsweek reports, “although money doesn’t buy happiness, happiness can buy money. Young people who describe themselves as happy typically earn higher incomes, years later, than those who said they were unhappy. It seems that a sense of well-being can make you more productive and more likely to show initiative and other traits that lead to a higher income. Contented people are also more likely to marry and stay married, as well as to be healthy, both of which increase happiness.”
So dear readers, enjoy a HAPPY Thanksgiving! Please share your gratitude for the “happy things” in your life by leaving a comment. Here are a few of mine for today:
tickling my daughter awake
my husband’s laid back attitude
my sister and I putting aside our differences and enjoying the holiday– and one another
my book club friends
learning to play the Marimba
my massage therapist
watching the birds congregate at my birdfeeder
spiced apple cider
you, my reader, for sharing your thoughts with me