How to Practice Gratitude This Thanksgiving

How to practice gratitude this Thanksgiving

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

As a global pandemic continues to wreak havoc in 2020, it may be challenging to feel anything but uncertainty as Thanksgiving approaches. This is especially true if you are starting to think more critically about the origin of that holiday, in terms of how Indigenous communities continue to be harmed since the genocide of Indigenous folx at the hands of America's earliest settlers.

As many have just begun to understand how systemic oppression harms folx or the impact of climate change, you may be feeling more overwhelmed than usual.

Thankfully, developing a gratitude practice may help to ground you following a stressful election period.

Gratitude and Health

A 2019 review of research studies found that gratitude was linked, beneficially, to social well-being, emotional health, and psychological functioning, and included gratitude journaling, i.e. "writing on a regular basis about things, people, and events one feels explicitly grateful for."

In this way, it may well be worth the effort to develop a gratitude practice with regular activities as a tangible step to improving your mental and emotional health.

In terms of its impact on physical health, based on a 2020 journal article that provided a systematic review of interventions, the practice of gratitude was associated with improvements in sleep quality, blood pressure, glycemic and asthma control, as well as eating behaviors.

Based on the positive impact on physical health, you have even more of a reason to think seriously about how to incorporate more gratitude into your daily life.

Gratitude Can Develop New Connections

A 2015 study of 70 undergraduate students demonstrated that "expressions of gratitude facilitate affiliation among previously unacquainted peers and establish support for a mechanism of this effect" based on the willingness of mentors to follow-up with mentees after receiving a handwritten thank you note.

By this, folx may benefit from promoting gratitude and interpersonal warmth with each other when fostering new connections.

Gratitude Maintains Relationships

According to the Find, Remind, and Bind theory, "gratitude is probably best understood as a mechanism for forming and sustaining the most important relationships of our lives, those with the people we care about and count on from one day to the next."

Based on this research study, folx would benefit from integrating gratitude as a central component of maintaining relationships with loved ones by expressing thanks on a daily basis.

A 2017 study shed light on gratitude in interpersonal relationships in terms of "persuasion (e.g. “Thank you. I so appreciate you being willing to help me with this task”), identity management (e.g. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to be honest with you”), and interaction management (e.g. “Thank you for giving me the chance to speak”)."

As seen in these examples, gratitude can be easily expressed in how folx communicate with family and friends to maintain relationships.

Gratitude and Injustice

While gratitude is generally recommended, a thorough discussion would not be complete without putting it in perspective with respect to issues of oppression and privilege.

A 2016 journal article by Liz Jackson draws attention to how "it would seem that availability of things to be grateful for and psychological benefits could correlate with relative advantage and disadvantage, exacerbating rather than ameliorating conditions of social inequality."

In this way, preoccupation with generosity and gratitude can take away much-needed attention from issues of oppression and privilege, which are often the underlying source of inequitable outcomes for folx.

To drive this point home, Jackson uses an example from Toni Morrison's acclaimed novel, A Bluest Eye, in which, "lack of gratitude is defended by the main character, a young Black girl named Claudia, for receiving what might seem in the first place to be a harmless gift of plausible value: a pink-skinned baby doll," as this is elucidated as "an act of opposition to dominant esthetic and relational values oppressive or contrary to her own self-respect needs."

In this way, for the main character to show gratitude for what is considered valuable in a white supremacist society, her self-respect would be threatened in terms of potential internalization of Eurocentric beauty standards, which can contribute to anti-Blackness.

While gratitude may be encouraged generally, it is crucial to note "though positive psychology asserts that gratitude can lead to being more beneficent in the world around you, without critical interrogation of how social injustice operates as individual advantage and disadvantage, one can be led away from understanding its structural nature, in favor of pleasure seeking and naivety, through gratitude chronicling or random acts of generosity to others."

How to Practice More Gratitude

In a white paper prepared for the John Templeton Foundation by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, gratitude is described as the "social glue that fortifies relationships—between friends, family, and romantic partners—and serves as the backbone of human society," which is demonstrated as mediated by gender, with such factors as envy, materialism, narcissism, and cynicism serving as barriers.

A better understanding of gratitude bodes well for incorporating it in your life in a way that is beneficial without reinforcing the problematic status quo.

Gratitude interventions include:

  • Counting blessings i.e., listing five things for which you are grateful;
  • Three Good Things i.e., writing down three things that went well and identifying the causes of those positives;
  • Mental subtraction i.e., imagining your life without a good thing;
  • Gratitude letters and visits i.e., writing and delivering letters of gratitude to folx you had never thanked;
  • Death reflection i.e., imagining your own death to take stock of and appreciate the benefits of being alive;
  • Experiential consumption i.e., making a shift from spending money on things to investing in experiences.

A Word From Verywell

Especially during times of uncertainty, investment in gratitude can offer a variety of benefits given how it can positively impact physical and mental health on a personal level, as well as relationships with loved ones.

Furthermore, folx who are functioning well and getting along with family and friends are likely to invest in their society for the benefit of others.

As the holiday season approaches, you may benefit from considering how you can reasonably integrate a gratitude practice into your daily life, especially given how much harder this time can be for more oppressed folx.

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