Whenever I host Thanksgiving, I invite family members and friends who are joining me at my holiday dinner table to share what they are thankful for. Often at first, this ritual of expressing gratitude brings muted groans, noticeable discomfort, and sometimes even eye rolls. Eventually, everyone participates, even the shy and most reluctant.
“Here she goes…Mom is being emotional again.”
Yes, I am emotional. I give myself permission to experience a full range of feelings — the positive ones such as joy, hope, kindness, and serenity — and even the negative ones like sadness, fear, anger, and loneliness. And I am particularly strong in feeling deep love and gratitude.
Gratitude is one of our most powerful positive emotions. So why is there such resistance to expressing it during a holiday that’s named for giving thanks?
Since we as humans are wired for negativity, with a survival need to notice threats and danger, we must work extra hard (some research says 3 to 5 times harder) to see what’s good around us and overcome our “negativity bias.” Thankfully, our survival needs also predispose us to connect with others, to love, to feel compassion and to nurture our young. And shifting our focus to what — and whom — we appreciate in our lives actually strengthens the positive neural pathways in our brains. Put more plainly, as positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar says, “When we appreciate the good, the good appreciates.”
Feeling grateful serves to broaden and build our positivity, widening our scope of experiencing positive emotions, thus increasing our overall wellbeing. Whether we keep a gratitude journal, make a habit of writing down three good things that we notice each day, or saying prayers of thanks to a higher power, expressing gratitude creates an “upward spiral” of positivity that leads to a greater sense of wellbeing, life satisfaction, and happiness.
Give thanks for what – and whom – we are grateful for, this Thanksgiving and everyday.
On this Thanksgiving, let’s all push through our initial discomfort to voice our gratitude for what’s good in our lives, and for the people we appreciate and cherish. It will not only increase our own happiness in that micro-moment of connectivity, but also have a positive effect on everyone sitting around the table. Including our children and other members of our family (despite the eye rolls).
Let’s not wait until Thanksgiving to give ourselves permission to notice and express gratitude for what — and whom — we are thankful for. Let’s make gratitude a daily practice. Let’s model it for our kids and invite them to participate as well. We all will feel happier. Science says so.