As you contemplate what you're thankful for this month, be sure to include the Thanksgiving holiday itself in your list of gratitude, especially given its placement during the year and the impact it can make on your mental health.
November--the month of shorter days, colder nights, and falling leaves. For some, the reduced sunshine, colder temperatures, and leafless plants usher in the winter blues, a period of mood shifts where you may feel more lethargic and gloomy. We could really use a pick-me-up at this time of year to keep us optimistic for the upcoming winter months. Luckily, research suggests that turning our thoughts to the true meaning of thanksgiving can improve our overall outlook and health.
Researchers at UC Davis and the University of Miami studied the effects of gratitude on overall health by asking participants to keep a weekly gratitude journal and compared them to a group that wrote about things that irritated them instead. Finally, a third group documented events without a positive or negative lean. After 10 weeks, those who kept a weekly gratitude journal were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than study participants that had not kept a gratitude journal. Interestingly enough, they also exercised more and had fewer doctor's visits.
Another researcher at the University of Pennsylvania found that writing and personally delivering a thank-you note resulted in an immediate jump in happiness scores amongst participants. The impact to happiness scores was greater than that from any other positive psychology intervention and lasted longer.
Shifting your focus to be more grateful will raise your spirits, but what if reflecting on gratitude doesn't come naturally to you? Or, maybe it does, but you'd like to develop a more consistent habit of recognizing the good in your life.
Here are four tips to help you develop a habit of gratitude.
- Keep a gratitude journal. It's as simple as it sounds. Start the day off right by writing what you're thankful for before you head off the work. Or, list the good things that happened to you at the end of the day before you lay down to sleep. Reflecting on what is going well in your life will help increase positivity and optimism.
- Write a thank-you note. There are several amazing consequences that come from this exercise. Not only are you able to push your thoughts beyond yourself, but you can impact the life of someone else in a positive way. let a coworker know how much you appreciate him or her and the positive impact they are making on your life. It's as simple as sending an email, but if you want more feel-goods, hand write a letter, deliver it in person, and tell them the gist of your letter to their face. It will make both of your days.
- Thank someone mentally. Okay, this is kind of a cop-out, but it can still help you. The lesser enthusiastic version of #2 entails thinking about someone who has done something nice for you and thanking them in your mind. At the end of the day, they'll never know, but you will. Then, just step up, write those thoughts down and complete tip #2.
- Meditate. Take some time to find a quiet place and ponder what you're thankful for. Focus on the present moment without judgment. Think about who or what brings joy into your life. Those who are religious often turn to prayer to help them think about what's important, turn their focus to something bigger than themselves, and thank others.
There you have it. Way to be Thanksgiving for directing our thoughts to the thing that can raise our spirits and lift us out of a lethargic or gloomy mood.
Pick one of the four tips, try it for a month, and see how you feel.
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