November tends to be the time of year where we settle in, look around ourselves, and count our blessings. This is when the annual harvest season is coming to a close, so it’s historically a time when we would all gather with our families and take inventory of everything that had been accumulated through the warmer seasons. This coming together and taking stock still carries into our modern culture, albeit somewhat differently. Once that chill hits the air, we’re still inclined to find our loved ones and hunker down.
As the days get colder and the nights get longer, it’s also natural for us to feel our spirits sinking, but being able to practice gratitude can warm our hearts and alleviate that heaviness. If gratitude isn’t already a habit of yours, this is a beautiful time of year to begin forming it.
Scientific studies have proven that a regular gratitude practice can improve emotional regulation, raise self-esteem, build hopes for the future, reduce stress and burnout, increase resilience, improve sleep quality, and increase overall levels of happiness. It can even strengthen our relationships with others.
When we routinely slow down and take the moments to truly notice all the tiniest bits of beauty and bliss that we encounter in our lives, it actually rewires our brains over time. Although the human brain’s default wiring emphasizes the negative as a strategy to avoid danger, we can train ourselves to instead focus on the good by adopting a regular gratitude practice. It causes us to become more aware of the positive when we see it, and that’s where our attention will then linger - as opposed to wandering off to the more unpleasant aspects of life.
However, this isn’t a change that occurs after a few brief moments of positive reflection. It takes repetition and routine. It takes practice, but it is so worth the effort. The hardest part is getting started.
It doesn’t take much exertion at all to turn a gratitude practice into a daily ritual, and it can greatly increase your enjoyment of life. There are lots of different ways to practice too, so you’re sure to find one that fits you. Here are a few popular examples:
Truthfully, this is not our natural instinct. A grateful mindset must be cultivated intentionally. As our species evolved, the individuals who were more wary of what could go wrong were more likely to survive in many situations. Those who expected to run into predatory animals while wandering would be more readily prepared to deal with that situation if it did indeed arise, as opposed to those who thought only about having a nice walk.
That’s no longer the world we live in, however. We don’t need to worry about a lion in the bushes waiting to pounce, and so we have the privilege of being able to choose a different mindset and start growing in a new direction. We can do this for ourselves, and we can help those around us to do the same.
When we raise our children, we teach them to be proud of themselves - to be proud of their accomplishments like their grades in school, or to be proud of their talents like being good at playing soccer or learning to play an instrument. Instead, we should be teaching them to cultivate gratitude, to be grateful that they can play soccer, that they have a nice home or toys, grateful that they earned a nice grade. It creates a whole new mindset of being humble rather than being prideful. When you're prideful, you think you have something better than others, but when you're humble and grateful you realize we're all the same. This understanding brings us closer together, and fosters stronger families (biological and found families alike) and communities as a whole.
After all, isn’t that what this season is all about?
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