The holiday season starts with a gift that can be lost in a frenzy of planning, shopping, cooking, and gatherings with friends and family. Giving thanks, or expressing gratitude, is a powerful antidote to all forms of negativity. Focusing on positive aspects of life has been found to decrease depression, anxiety, and aches and pains. It improves the quality of sleep, and increases energy and motivation. Studies have found that gratitude even affects metabolism and stress levels. Thanksgiving reminds us to give thanks, which in return gives us the gift of improving our minds, bodies, and our quality of life.
One of the wonderful things about gratitude is we can practice it anywhere, at any time. Any amount of practice helps, and it's a skill we can build. Many people have heard of writing daily in a gratitude journal, or sending thank you cards to express gratitude. Here are some additional less familiar strategies that can be very helpful:
Turn a "Have To" into a "Get To"
Whatever it is that we feel we have to do, reframing it as a "get to do" changes everything. It does not change the reality - but that's not what we need to do. We just need to shift our perspective, which shifts our mood, starting a domino effect of positivity, instead of negativity. I heard about this a few years ago and have been using it ever since. For example, when I'm walking my dog in the freezing cold, instead of thinking of it as a miserable chore, "BRRR! I'm freezing! I can't stand this! Hurry up!" I think, "This is what it feels like to be alive!" This completely shifts my perspective from feeling pressured and uncomfortable, to being grateful for my dog and to feel the air. The coldness brings my focus to gratitude for being alive, instead of focusing on feeling discomfort, and the activity is no longer a chore.
Turn a Hardship into an Opportunity
Choosing to view a situation that is challenging as an opportunity to grow our skills helps shift from feeling powerless to feeling empowered. It is a self-talk strategy to use when feeling defeated or overwhelmed - a tool that calls upon our rational part which knows that adversity can lead to growing stronger. From sitting in traffic, choosing to focus on growing the skill of patience instead of allowing feelings of anger to build, to being caught in a disagreement, choosing to grow the skill of respecting others' points of view instead of allowing intolerance and frustration to fester, there are many opportunities to use this perspective if we choose to.
In addition to these, there are all of the daily moments that are really OK and which we can choose to be thankful for, taking our focus off of problems we may be distressing ourselves about. No matter what is going on in our lives, there is a half-full or silver-lining perspective available if we remember to look for it. We can wish for a Happy Thanksgiving, as well as for Giving Thanks which can make us Happy!
MARSHA MANDEL, MA, LMHC, CCTP
Master Accelerated Resolution Therapy Clinician
National Accelerated Resolution Therapy Trainer
National SAF-T Trainer
Certified Clinical Trauma Professional