What if Thanksgiving was not just one day a year, but a day that reminds you to practice gratitude and giving thanks each and every day? Establishing a regular gratitude practice is the best way to build resilience and happiness.
For some people, gratitude comes easily. But for many others, noticing the good is elusive and speaking about it is even more difficult. Each of us is wired differently.
However, scientists have discovered that grateful people are happier and healthier.
What I know for sure is that it’s possible to learn how to be more grateful. When you engage in regular gratitude practices, you can actually alter the wiring of our brains! So, if you are one of those people who draws a blank when asked “what are you grateful for?” there is hope.
Noticing the good and expressing is a practice that you can develop.
Speaking of wiring, neuroscientists have coined the term “negativity bias” to explain how noticing what is not working is evolutionary protection we humans developed in order to survive. Looking for what could go wrong has helped keep us alive and on alert. Dave Mochel writes:
“The biggest challenge of giving thanks is that your brain will give you lots of compelling reasons to resent, resist, and complain about circumstances and people you do not like. Being grateful is not a replacement for addressing injustice, asserting values, working toward important goals, or dealing with challenge. But practicing gratitude is a way to improve your quality of life and relationships while you are doing these things.”
Because of this, we need to grow our ability to pay attention to what IS working, who we are grateful for, and being thankful.
Jewish tradition is filled with ways to add gratitude into your life. In fact, the Talmud (Menachot 43B) teaches that we should say 100 blessings a day. Being thankful is one way to balance yourself when times are difficult. Even in the midst of challenges, finding one good thing can help lift despair.
Imagine what your life would be like if 100 times a day, you said: “Thank You.”
Here are some ways to build gratitude into your life. Perhaps this year at Thanksgiving, you can go around the table and each person can say what or whom they are grateful for. We have done this with our children each holiday, so they are pretty good at this – although they do “warn” their friends who spent a holiday with us that they will be asked to share something personal.
1. Before going to sleep at night, think of 3 things for which you are grateful. You can write them in a journal. Try to think of new ones each night. THEY CAN BE SMALL: your ability to breathe. The roof over your head. Your pet. A funny video or photo.
2. Before you sit down to eat, pause for a moment and think about all the people that were involved in getting that food to sit on your plate – from the people who planted the seeds, to those that drove the trucks, to the people who cooked it.
3. Go for a walk and notice all the miracles and beauty. Say thank you for existing.
4. Read poetry for inspiration on how to be grateful. The poet Mary Oliver is especially wonderful – she notices the tiniest bits in nature and writes about them so beautifully.
5. Think about someone in your life for whom you are grateful – it could be a teacher who believed in you, a neighbor who always has a smile for you in the morning or a pet that regularly makes you laugh. Write a letter to them and tell them.
6. Create a “gratitude jar” – every day, write something you are thankful for on a little slip of paper, and put it in the jar. When you need a lift, go to the jar, which will remind you of something good.
The Time Is Now
7. Give of yourself – volunteer, drive a friend to the doctor, make food for someone who is sick. I promise you that when you help others, you will become more grateful.
This week is a great time to begin a daily gratitude practice.
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I would love to hear how you bring thankfulness into your life. Comment below!
Candace Doucette says
Thank you for writing a wonderful article. Practicing gratitude brings peace to my life. It is easy to forget to pray during busy days so I set a chime on my phone for 3 times a day. When my family hears it they say “time to pray”. Just taking 30 seconds to give thanks is so important. Happy Thanksgiving.
Great ideas and important to practice ❤️
After getting settled into bed at night, I close my eyes and pick out 3 things that happened during the day that I am thankful for. I direct my thanks to Hashem.
Kathleen Condo says
I am thankful for you, Rabbi Jill. Reading this just now struck a chord in my heart—just When I needed it the most.