Gratitude is a big topic this time of year. Many of us give a brief thought to what we’ll say we’re grateful for around the Thanksgiving table. Family and home, food and friends come immediately to mind and are often acknowledged on this holiday.
What about things more basic, that many Americans take mostly for granted? Hot and cold running water. Shelter from the storm and a safe place to sleep. Lights that turn on with the flip of a switch. Endless food of incredible variety. Abundant water that is safe to drink. Access to medical care.
It’s pretty astounding how rich we are, regardless of the state of our finances or bank accounts. Funny thing about humans, we tend to stress and obsess over what we don’t have, rather than feel constantly grateful for what we do.
Check it out in your own life. Observe and follow your thoughts for a random five minutes. Where does your mind go? Are you worrying? Stressing? Planning? Organizing? Daydreaming? Are you in the present moment? The past? The future? Interesting to track, isn’t it?
Somewhere in the midst of all that concern about paying this bill or getting so and so to that appointment, consider your blessings. Being alive and functional at whatever level is a big one. The basics we touched on before of food, water, and shelter are also huge. Do you have a beloved animal companion? Think for a moment on all that creature has brought to your world. Most of us smile fondly, and shake our heads at the same time at adorable, silly, or occasionally destructive antics.
The latest research is downright shocking when it comes to the role of gratitude and quality of life. Gratitude not only helps people feel better emotionally, but actually has specific health benefits. It reduces the heart rate, eases stress, lowers blood pressure and can help regulate the nervous system. Regular gratitude practices help people with chronic pain and other ongoing conditions.
Counting our blessings actually counts. And the more we do it, the more it becomes habitual. One of the easiest habits to create, the benefits are astronomical. It’s free. It’s constantly available; there’s no waiting for open business hours. We can do it in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning or just before going to sleep.
This year, experiment with what gratitude can do for you. Take those moments from the Thanksgiving table and keep them going. Think long and deeply about what is excellent in your life. And watch the stress melt away. Keep your blessings uppermost in your mind and heart throughout the craziness of the holiday season and discover you enjoy it more and are more relaxed about the whole thing. Count your blessings like little sheep when sleep proves elusive. Notice how different that makes you feel (than the usual worrying) when you wake up in the morning.
Changing habits, especially habits of thinking, takes time and a bit of effort. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If we’re habitual worriers, blessing counting can seem strange, false and even a little uncomfortable. Persevere. The benefits are huge and the cost is only a bit of focused attention.
This Thanksgiving consider being grateful for the opportunity to be grateful. This holiday was created as a celebration of shared community. Community created from multiple cultures and people who didn’t speak the same language, but still chose to connect, to reach out and to share their harvest. Let gratitude be part of yours.