Gratitude, the Super Power for All Seasons

As I write this, it is the day before Thanksgiving in the US. People are busy wrapping up work; traveling distances to be with loved ones; making last-minute runs to the grocery store; making pies (if you're lucky); rehearsing the timeline for the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes; and coming up with a strategy to avoid heated conversation about politics or those pesky buttons that, when pushed, derail many a family gathering. 

Today, on the busy eve of Thanksgiving, it’s a good time to talk about gratitude.  

Do a quick survey of the habits of successful people, and you will find many who swear by their gratitude practice. It could seem like new-age  fluff – this gratitude thing. But truth be told, this habit has teeth. Gratitude is a potent force that can change your brain, your body, and your behavior.

It could seem like new-age fluff – this gratitude thing. But truth be told, this habit has teeth. Gratitude is a potent force that can change your brain, your body, and your behavior.

The practice of gratitude – the deliberate act of recounting the positive things in one’s life – nourishes the brain with the happy hormones of dopamine and serotonin. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that a happy brain changes how you experience your life and the world you live in. It's true: when I am in a good mood, anything seems possible.

But it’s not just the feel-good aspect of gratitude that gives it a super-power status.  Studies show a link between gratitude and altruistic action. Gratitude wires us to act generously in the world – for the benefit of others. To make the equation even more powerful, acting generously increases the experience of fulfillment. Gratitude is a productive, reinforcing loop of perspective, connection, and contentment.

And it doesn’t stop there. Gratitude is linked to decreases in stress and increases in the body’s immune function. In fact, gratitude supports the limbic system – the system that makes our bodies function well. And to add to this happy cascade of effects, the more you practice gratitude, the more it becomes your MO, your default position. Your brain gets wired for gratitude.

Gratitude fuels the human drive for social connection – of experiencing ourselves as connected to one another and to the world we live in. And so, this year, I’d say that Thanksgiving isn’t coming a day too soon.

Amidst the wreckage of a brutal and prolonged Presidential election season, and the ensuing angry political climate that is broadcast through news and social media 24/7, we need the healing balm of gratitude. Now, more than ever, we need to pull ourselves out the unproductive mindset of isolation and disconnection. We need the elevating, high-leverage mindset of gratitude to inspire our efforts to contribute productively and give our best each day.

Thanksgiving is a harvest festival. It is a time to gather, assess, and acknowledge the fruits, the gifts, that have come from our own labor and from the labor of others. It is a time to acknowledge the value, blessings, and hidden gems of here and now; and to remember we are part of something bigger.

Certainly, you can check out the studies on gratitude to be convinced of its productive impact. Or, better yet, you can conduct your own experiment. See for yourself. 

Try taking one minute at the close of each day to recall three to five things – major or miniscule, tangible or intangible, that you are grateful for that day.  There is no limit to the things in our world to be grateful for. Perhaps it is a new project, a great idea, an inspired thought, the perfect cup of coffee, the comforting presence of your cat, the support of a friend, the ability to listen to someone’s pain, the laughter of a child, the hopeful feeling that you are making progress in your work, the smile of a stranger, the impulse to smile back, the beauty in your home, a good cup of tea, the joy you feel when you make something or give a gift, the talent of another.... 

I recommend that you write down your gratitude list. It helps to add a physical habit (writing) to support a mental one. I use the app Day One to capture what I am grateful for - in a quick list, sometimes with an added photo. A journal or notepad will also do the trick. Do this practice at the same time every day and link it to other habits so that you remember. Maybe you do it before you turn off the light before sleep. Or before you exercise. 

This gratitude training will help you count rather than discount the beautiful details of your daily life. This is the secret recipe those successful people have discovered: When you make the effort of gratitude, you color your world into one of opportunity, clarity, optimism, and inspiration.  

Try it out, and see if it doesn’t uplift and transform the way you feel and how you see. Build the muscle of gratitude to shed light on your life, appreciate your bounty, and share your gifts with the world. Use the gratitude super power to live an epic, everyday, productive life of purpose, perspective, and contribution. Gratitude saves the day and works wonders. And it's as easy as pie. 

On my gratitude list today? All of you – those who seek to do great work. You inspire me and give me hope. And without hope, nothing gets done. With hope, anything is possible.

Happy Thanksgiving!