Cultivating an attitude of gratitude will make you a better person in many ways.
At a time when it feels like the world is falling apart around us, both politically and environmentally, it's more important than ever to take time for gratitude this Thanksgiving. For most TreeHugger readers, it's a fair bet that life is good in many ways. We have a (vegan?) holiday feast on our tables today. There are schools for our children to attend. Our homes are warm, our beds are dry, our streets are safe-ish (minus those pesky cars). That's a lot more than many other people in the world can say.
While counting one's blessings is typically viewed as a spiritual practice, it is worthwhile even for the most secular of us. An article in Quartzy, written by Ephrat Livni and titled "Gratitude costs nothing, yet can feel so expensive," suggests:
"Recognizing relative riches begins by looking inward and has effects that radiate outward. In other words: Life is nicer for you and everyone else when you recognize how much is going right."
Feeling gratitude benefits you in multiple ways. It offers a boost to health and has been linked to improved mood and immune function. It decreases anxiety, stress, and risk of depression. Melissa wrote for TreeHugger that gratitude can improve sleep, decrease inflammation in the body, and improve one's self-efficacy, which is "belief in one's ability to handle a situation."
A grateful attitude will help you socially. Livni writes that it makes one more generous with friends and strangers, and improves already-existing relationships. Since gratitude engenders a "less critical, less punishing, and more compassionate relationship with the self," as a 2015 study found, then surely that will spill over into personal relationships, too.
Expressing gratitude is the antithesis of our societal obsession with social media, where so much of the focus is on comparing with others and making oneself look as good as possible. Instead, take a step back from the narcissism of it all and realize how great things are, filters and poses aside.
Marie Kondo, author of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," is a big proponent of gratitude. She believes that vocalizing gratitude to one's belongings and one's home will result in "feeling your house respond when you come home. You will sense its pleasure passing through like a gentle breeze." She tells her clients to appreciate their belongings:
"I urge them to try saying, 'Thank you for keeping me warm all day,' when they hang up their clothes after returning home. Or, when removing their accessories, I suggest they say, 'Thank you for making me beautiful,' and when putting their bag in the closet, to say, “'It’s thanks to you that I got so much work done today.' Express your appreciation to every item that supported you during the day. If you find this hard to do daily, then at least do it whenever you can."
Kondo goes on to write that carrying on a dialogue with one's home may sound "totally impractical and fantastic," but that it will make the job of tidying go more smoothly, as "you will gradually be able to feel where it would like you to tidy and where it would like you to put things."
Whether or not you buy the whole responsive-house concept, the point is that we benefit from gratitude. We become better human beings, more capable of continuing our work as green lifestyle champions (or whatever we're passionate about), if we're aware of how good we've got it, relative to the rest of the world.
Start by saying thank you aloud periodically throughout the day; or write down five things you're grateful for every night before bed. Over time, this will feel more natural. Livni adds:
"Cultivating this attitude of gratitude works like a cognitive exercise, providing you with valuable perspective. Think of it as a meditation that hones focus, and don’t even worry about who you’re thanking. Just thank your lucky stars that the countless complex processes that make you and Earth function are working, and go from there. Be glad for good people, moments, and things."
On that note, thank you for reading and have a happy Thanksgiving with your friends and family!