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How many of us start our Thanksgiving meal by talking about what we're grateful for?

My family of 25 holds off on the dishing out until we've gone around in a (large) circle and each named one source of our gratitude (inevitably, "our big family" makes the cut several times over); the practice has held for decades. Good news for us: Expressing gratitude isn't just another holiday tradition, it's actually good for you.

Researchers have found that when you express gratitude, you're more likely to live with it - and with its many mental health benefits. While there's never been a direct cause-and-effect relationship proven, psychologists believe that gratitude is a doorway to positive emotions and better relationships - and that one way for us to hold onto it is to share it.

One study found that participants who wrote expressions of gratitude were "more optimistic and felt better about their lives," exercised more and went to the doctor less than control groups.

Another study compared the expression of gratitude to other positive interventions. It turns out that happiness scores were highest when participants wrote someone a thank you letter - and that those benefits lasted a month.

When you express gratitude, you're doing yourself a huge favor. It feels good. Expressing gratitude makes our friends, family, waitresses, cashiers, and partners feel good - and we all know that one small smile can be infectious.

Expressing gratitude also feels good because it shifts our focus. Instead of dwelling on what we don't have, or what we want, we focus on areas where we already feel fulfilled. Practicing shifting our focus can feel a bit forced at first - but you can practice gratitude to get better at living with it - and to be happier overall.

To express gratitude year round and get both an instant boost and lasting benefits, try these practices:

  • Write a thank you note.
  • Don't have time to write? Just mentally acknowledge your thankfulness.
  • Try keeping a journal. Just one sentence per day can shift your focus to acceptance of what you have - and even celebration of it.
  • Pay attention to your senses and mentally note the scents, sights, sounds, feelings and tastes that make you feel good. Just acknowledging the warmth from your sweet potato soup can be enough to fully appreciate it.
  • Take a time out. Five minutes of peace will give you time to relax enough to get back in the grateful mindset.
  • Think about the words you use. "Wish" and "hope" sound pleasant, but use them too often and your mind can get crowded with a different focus. In the same vein...
  • Be present. One of the greatest obstacles to gratefulness is lack of awareness. Use visual cues like post-it notes or pictures to remind yourself to live in the now.

Have you gone on a gratefulness journey? Share your tips for feeling gratitude. (And thank you in advance.)


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