As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
~John Fitzgerald Kennedy
The Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated this week, and millions of Americans will gather with their families and friends to commemorate the original Thanksgiving which was held at Plymouth Colony (New England), in 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Indians. Many of us will take the opportunity to express our gratitude, during or before the feast, for all of the things we are thankful for.
The emotion of gratitude, which is embodied in thanksgiving, is an integral part of many religions of the world. Psychologists, philosophers, educators, and students have been pondering it for years. The positive benefits of “feeling grateful” have long been appreciated, but have never been fully understood. Why, exactly, does this simple emotion yield such enormous good in our lives?
The Gratitude Exercise
Many families make a ritual of asking “What am I thankful for” prior to the Thanksgiving feast. As we pause and reflect, we often develop a greater understanding and appreciation for what we have. This is a welcome relief from the day-to-day whisperings of our ego-driven “inner voice” which seems to work nonstop to convince us that we have nothing to be grateful for.
How many of us have endured listening to thoughts like these? Doesn’t Uncle Ned own a string of shopping centers? Didn’t our friend Eddie retire with millions after selling his software company? Isn’t it true that 90% of the people we attended school with have already retired, and we’re still working? We failed in our career, we failed in love, and now we even messed up our family! Everyone else is successful, except for me! Life is miserable, and I’m the biggest loser of all!
Sound familiar? The reason gratitude works is because it completely bypasses the insane chatter of your “monkey mind.” Pure gratitude is selfless, and is spirit-driven. It is the opposite of being self-centered. Gratitude seeks to understand others, seeks to learn from them, and expresses thankful emotion. Gratitude strives to “give back” without any expectation of a return.
The next time you start feeling depressed or feeling sorry for yourself, try the following “Gratitude Exercise” (compliments of my good friend Matthew Ferry from his book “Creating Sales Velocity”)
1. Take out a blank sheet of paper
2. On the top, write the following question: “I am so thankful to (God, your higher power, the universe, whatever you call it) for: _____________________________.
3. Write down at least 20 things in a list. Don’t think, just write!
4. By the time you’ve completed the list, you will once again be in a great mood!