Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!
It’s that time of year again, when we get together with our loved ones to stuff ourselves with seasonal food and show gratitude for life’s many blessings. I was never a big fan of Thanksgiving when I was a kid, mostly because I hate sweet potatoes, but now that I live abroad I miss the emphasis North Americans place on taking one day a year to not only surround yourself with people you’re grateful for, but to also take the time to express that gratitude.
Gratitude is a hot topic these days, with gratitude journals proliferating on social media and increasing research showing that practising gratitude can increase happiness. It’s clear that if you want to live a joyful life, you need to start by appreciating what you have.
But let’s say you tried a gratitude journal and it didn’t work out for you. Maybe you’ve been going through a tough time, and you don’t see the point in taking five minutes every evening to write down things that, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty inconsequential. When life throws huge, heartbreaking curveballs at you, it feels trite to essentially say, “Well, at least I have a roof over my head.”
I get it. Personally, it’s not enough to just list something I’m grateful for and leave it at that. What really works for me is to take the time to actively appreciate what I have. This means not just acknowledging it, but doing something that allows me to connect emotionally with that gratitude.
With that in mind, here are some ideas for practising gratitude not just today, but every day.
Spend time with loved ones
This one is so important. For many of us, our family and friends are at the top of the list of things we’re grateful for, but it’s easy to get so overwhelmed by our obligations that we don’t make time to really appreciate our loved ones.
We always ate dinner together as a family when I was growing up and, while I’d never have admitted to enjoying it at the time, those dinners are one of the highlights of every trip home, especially when my sisters are around. We sit around the table long after we’ve finished eating, talking and laughing together, and every single time my heart fills with gratitude for these wonderful people in my life.
If you live with family or friends, try to eat together at least a few times a week. It’s a great opportunity to connect with one another about the mundane facets of your lives, to discuss your thoughts, hopes and dreams, and to just catch up at the end of a busy day with the people who make it all worthwhile.
If you live alone, you might try making a regular lunch date with your closest friends or find another way to have a regular meet-up with your loved ones. Make spending time with them and cherishing them part of your everyday life, no matter how busy you are, and the gratitude will flow naturally from that starting point.
Connect with the things that bring you joy
I’ve always loved music. I often have music playing in the background while I cook, tidy and work, and always when I’m driving. Yet I can’t remember the last time I really listened to music. Sometimes when I’m driving to work I suddenly notice what song is playing on whatever album is currently in the CD drive, and I realise I’ve completely missed my favourite song. It played one or two tracks ago and I didn’t even notice.
There’s a difference between playing music in the background while doing something else and listening to music with your full attention, just as there’s a difference between going for a run to keep fit and going for a run for the sheer joy of movement.
That’s not to say you should never listen to music unless you can give it your undivided attention, or you should only ever run when you feel the inclination to, but that reminding yourself to feel that connection to something you love is one of the best ways to practise gratitude.
Feel gratitude for the music that moves your soul, for the lyrics that speak to the epicentre of your heart.
Feel gratitude for the fleet-footed body that propels you through life, for the fresh, crisp autumn air that fills your lungs.
Doing the things you love wholeheartedly is one of the best ways to practise gratitude on a daily basis.
Slow down and enjoy the present
If you’re anything like me, you have dreams and aspirations. And that’s a good thing. Dreams push us to become better versions of ourselves, and they give us something to strive for and work towards.
But sometimes dreams can result in discontent and ingratitude, when we’re so focussed on what’s ahead that we forget about what’s behind us and all around us.
If you find yourself so caught up in your goals that you feel dissatisfied with where your life is now, take the time to slow down and appreciate the small things in life. Think about how far you’ve come already, go for a walk and enjoy the sunshine, or sit down and savour a good book. Give yourself permission to stop looking towards the future for a while and enjoy the present for a change.
You’ll notice that all the things I’ve suggested take more time than keeping a gratitude log or otherwise simply stating what you’re grateful for, but in my experience the results are worth it. While it might take some tricky time management skills, it’s no effort at all to sit down to dinner with your loved ones and talk about your day, and doing so helps you feel gratitude in the deepest recesses of your soul in a way you just can’t replicate by attempting to list things you’re grateful for every day.
Of course, if you keep a gratitude log and find it helpful, then don’t let this post deter you, but if, like myself, you’ve found it difficult to really connect with feelings of gratitude when you’ve tried to do a log in the past, then perhaps these ideas will help you to feel that emotional connection.
Over to you
What’s your favourite way to practise gratitude? And what’s your favourite part of Thanksgiving?
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