For lots of people, Thanksgiving this year may have been challenging and upcoming holiday gatherings could produce similar situations.
A recent article (one of many!) suggests that political realities and an environment of hatred and animosity can make a holiday season that’s organized around a sense of happiness and gratitude feel obsolete or even inappropriate.
Given the current atmosphere, cultivating a sense of thankfulness may feel like the last thing anyone wants to do right now. But the article says it’s actually more important than ever to do that ― at least according to science.
“Gratitude reduces all stress, big and small,” gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at University of California, Davis, told The Huffington Post.
We’re advised that this is especially important to keep in mind during tumultuous periods like this one, because it can help counteract the negative emotions that threaten our emotional and physical health.
“When we experience resentments, we make ourselves envious, angry, bitter and annoyed again and again,” Emmons explained. “We are weighed down in negativity, prevented from accessing gratitude and serenity.”
So how do we generate a sense of gratitude when legitimate concerns over the future, well-being or safety persist?
The trick, according to Emmons, is to catch ourselves in a negative thought and redirect it. For example, consider a stressful ideation we’ve had circulating in our mind lately. Maybe it is something to the effect of, “Things will never get better.”
This thought can make us feel we’re in deficit, rather than surplus. Instead, we should try recalling the good things in our life ― our support system, our job or even just our daily run ― as a way to protect ourselves against anxiety, even if just for a moment ― or a designated day.
In other words, we might not be able to control external, distressing events, but we can still use positive psychology to keep our own internal waters calm. And that can help keep us strong if we do want to address what’s bothering us later.
“If we can short-circuit anti-grateful thoughts, we have good chance of taking control over our emotional lives and developing an emotional resilience that is immune to changing circumstances,” Emmons said.
How to practice gratitude
The article says there are simple ways to exercise gratitude during this contentious time and that the health benefits of the practice are worth the work. Research shows thankfulness can lower our blood pressure, help us live longer and sleep more deeply. Below are a few methods that according to the article, will get us there:
Try going around the table.
Previous research suggests that teenagers may not benefit from performative gratitude, such as going around the table to say what we appreciate. But experts suggest that we don’t roll our eyes at the round-robin just yet.
“I highly recommend [going around the table],” Randy Kamen, a psychologist an author of Behind The Therapy Door: Simple Strategies To Transform Your Life, told The Huffington Post. “Instead of all the family fighting ― and who doesn’t have that? ― shift your mind to what’s good.”
We’re advised to try to zero in on the fact that we still made it through another year and that we are indeed grateful to be here, Kamen added.
Engage in a gratitude-boosting activity.
Decide to be thankful.
Feeling a sense of gratitude will always to be a choice. As author Barry Schwartz wrote in the book The Paradox of Choice, our gratitude list will often consist of the little things.
This could be the way light streams through our bedroom window or a meal cooked exactly as we like it. Only every so often will something huge hit our list, such as a new job opportunity/promotion or winning a contest of some kind.
Emmons also recommends asking ourselves these three questions as a nightly exercise:
- If I freely chose to practice gratitude, would the quality of my life improve?
- Would my self-esteem improve?
- Would I be less miserable and more effective and energetic?
“I think the answer to these questions is an unqualified yes,” he said. What do you think?
Courtesy The Huffington Post