For most Americans, November brings along with it not only cooler temperatures but also the promise of a turkey dinner, complete with all the fixings, toward the end of the month. All families have different traditions, and some common ones include the turkey, pumpkin pie, watching football, and talking about what all family members are grateful for. It’s fitting, therefore, that November is National Gratitude Month in the United States. Since gratitude can positively affect us in a number of ways, here are some ways you can participate this National Gratitude Month.
Benefits of Being Grateful
You might have noticed that if you are feeling a bit down, finding something to be grateful for can really turn your mood around. Research has shown that being grateful can also help you feel more joy and happiness, help you to become more generous and compassionate, and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
In addition, gratitude has physical effects: It can actually lower your blood pressure and boost your immune system. This can lead to less illness overall and can even reduce your risk of developing heart disease or of having a heart attack or stroke, both of which can be caused by high blood pressure.
Ideas for Expressing Your Gratitude
You might be wondering how you can best express your gratitude on a regular basis. Here are some tips to get your started during National Gratitude Month:
- Say thank you… and mean it! Most of us say “thank you” reflexively when someone passes the salt to us across the table or when a cashier gives us back our change. The next time someone does something like this for you, look the person in the eyes and think for a moment about how thankful you are that they helped you. When you say thank you, you might find yourself meaning it more than usual.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Choose a time each day when you can sit down in a quiet place and reflect on your day. Think of one or two things you are thankful for and write them down in your journal. You can be as detailed as you want; just jot them down quickly or spend a few minutes writing a paragraph. Either way, when you look back later, you’ll smile when you remember how many things you had to be thankful for.
- Pay it forward. One excellent way to show gratitude is to help others. If, for example, you are grateful for having enough food to feed your family, consider volunteering at a food pantry or a soup kitchen. Take the time to reflect on your gratitude as you stack cans, hand boxes to people, or carry trays of dishes into the kitchen.
Encouraging Your Teen to Express Gratitude
If you are the parent of a teenager, you might sometimes feel frustrated at how little gratitude your child expresses. It’s not uncommon for teens to become self-absorbed during these years, and that can be trying. Here are a few tips to apply this National Gratitude Month to get your teens to be grateful for the things and experiences that they have:
- Check your expectations. Do keep in mind that adolescence is a difficult and awkward time for many young people. Many teens find it hard to communicate their feelings during these years and that can result in what looks like a lack of gratitude. This doesn’t mean that you should accept disrespectful behavior, but it might mean that you need to accept a different type of gratitude expression than you are hoping for.
- Model your own gratitude. Talk about what you are grateful for. Do this with both tangible items and intangible concepts.
- Encourage community involvement. While teens can be self-absorbed, they can also be empathetic. Volunteering is a great way for your teen to learn about other people’s realities; the natural progression is for them to apply that to themselves and their own circumstances, often resulting in gratitude.
- Encourage your teen to give credit where credit is due. Adolescents often try to blame others for their own shortcomings; this is a normal phase of growing up. They also sometimes try to take credit for things that are not of their own doing. Gently point out who has helped them achieve their goals and don’t be afraid to point out privileges that your teen has that also help them along the way.
How to Feel Gratitude When Times Are Tough
During good times, it’s easy to feel gratitude. Most people are grateful to have enough food in their homes, a home to live in, good health, healthy children, and a job that pays the bills. When these necessities are lacking, however, it can be difficult to be grateful for the good things in life while still mourning the bad things.
- Actively look for things to be grateful for. You might need to take time to meditate on what’s going right when it seems like everything is going wrong. A sunny day, pizza for dinner on a day when everything has gone wrong, and new blooms on your rosebush might be the little things you need to focus on in order to be grateful.
- Help someone else. Just as volunteering can help your teen practice gratitude, it can help you put your own troubles in perspective.
- Look for the silver linings. This can be easy sometimes; when your child was a baby and would be wide awake at 2:00 am, you could recognize your exhaustion while also bursting with gratitude that you had your sweet baby to keep you awake in the first place. When you are undergoing invasive medical treatments or you can’t make the mortgage payment for the second month in a row, the silver lining can be more difficult to find. Do what you can to find anything at all that is positive in a negative situation.
Start Practicing Gratitude Today
Gratitude is an attitude, not a specific practice. You will find that practicing gratitude will lead you to be more grateful as you encounter different ups and downs throughout your life. If you haven’t been as grateful as you’d like, take some steps this National Gratitude Month to begin practicing gratitude. Your mental and physical health will thank you!