“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite holidays because it is a special opportunity to focus on family, friends, food and fellowship. It is a day to stop and reflect and give thanks, all while cooking up scrumptious food with your family. Personally, I am thankful for my loving husband of 34 years, who has supported me 100% along the way, and for our two daughters, who are kind, funny and smart and who know how to throw down in the kitchen. I am thankful for my wonderful staff, who make me it a joy to come to work. And I am thankful for my patients, many of whom have become like family after all these years of performing their annual exams or delivering their children and grandchildren.
But although Thanksgiving can be one of the most fun and relaxing holidays of the year, it can also be a sad and stressful time for many. Our hearts may ache thinking about who will not be sitting around the dinner table this year – loved ones, close friends and family who are no longer with us. We miss them terribly already and that pain usually only intensifies during the holidays. Yet, we must give thanks anyway, no matter what our situation. This month’s message, then, is about the power of practicing gratitude every day, in all of life’s circumstances.
Don’t worry if practicing gratitude is not already a normal part of your daily routine. Experts say gratitude is something you can learn. A good way to start is by journaling. Write down one thing a day that you are thankful for. You can write about the big things, like having a roof over your head, food to eat, a job, health, children, a significant other, parents, friends, a car, and even gasoline to put in the car. You can also give thanks for the smaller things in life: a beautiful flower blooming in the garden, the cheerful chirping of a bird, the friendly mailman at the post office, knees that bend, feet that walk, teeth that chew, ears that hear, the ability to talk and smell, and, and, and… You get the point. There are a million and one things to be grateful for every day; the challenge is just to make sure we take time to express that gratitude!
“Well,” you might say, “I have nothing to be grateful for because of this and that and the other. Once my circumstances have changed, then I will give thanks and be happy for what I have.” This is unfortunately how so many of us live our lives: we miss out on true happiness and the ability to enjoy our lives because we can’t see all the many things, big and small, that we have to be grateful for. We are unhappy because we can’t tap into a sense of gratitude for what we have. The good news is, though, the more we practice gratitude – even if it’s just fakin’ it ‘til you make it – the more grateful we become.
Maybe I can inspire those of you who may be skeptical about taking up this new habit by letting you in on some of the health benefits associated with gratitude. Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis, has found that practicing gratitude “can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.” Another study from the University of California-San Diego’s School of Medicine found that people who were more grateful had better heart health, particularly less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms. A third study showed that people who keep a gratitude journal have a reduced dietary fat intake — as much as 25 percent lower. Stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people. And having a daily gratitude practice could actually reduce the effects of aging to the brain. In other words, gratitude is a serious health booster!
So, I challenge you this holiday season to start consciously practicing gratitude, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. And that starts by being truly present with your family and loved ones over the holidays. Turn off the TV, put down the smart phones and tables, and be present. Listen to and participate in conversations in the kitchen and at the dinner table. Show them through your actions and words just how grateful you are they are in your life. As William Ward brilliantly put it, “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” And gratitude is one of the best gifts you can give this season.