After this polarizing election year that has left many of us feeling disconnected, weary, and fearful, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for reconnection — even with family members of different political leanings, if we are intentional and focused on practicing gratitude.
Here are three reasons that choosing a grateful outlook can help us deal with Uncle Frank when he inevitably brings up politics around the Thanksgiving table.
- Gratitude helps us feel better – Studies have long shown a strong connection between gratitude and well-being, with benefits like lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system, increased optimism and resilience, better sleep, and feeling less lonely or isolated. Gratitude can be a natural anti-depressant because it activates and strengthens neural pathways associated with the “feel-good” neurotransmitter dopamine.
- Gratitude helps us act better, too – Being mindful of our blessings big and small connects us to empathy and generosity. When we feel grateful, we tend to act in more pro-social ways towards others, which in turn invites them to respond in positive ways to us.
- Gratitude helps us feel more connected – As psychologist Rick Hanson says, “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones,” so we have to be very intentional about shifting our attention to what is going right instead of what needs to be fixed. Expressing appreciation regularly to our partners, children, and co-workers can help us improve these relationships.
For some of us, gratitude does not come easily, either because we never saw it modeled or just because it feels uncomfortable in our deficit-oriented society in which we define ourselves by what we’re not. The good news is that we can strengthen our brain’s “gratitude muscle.” Practices such as keeping a gratitude journal, offering prayers or thoughts of thanksgiving, sharing verbal or written appreciations with family and friends, and many other exercises can be great training. The more we practice a grateful outlook and attitude the more spontaneous they become.
As Thanksgiving and possibly heated family conversations approach this holiday season, choose to focus on feeling and expressing gratitude, for all the gifts and people in your life, including Uncle Frank.
The following questions from the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute offer a great starting place for reflecting on and deepening gratitude in our daily lives.
Choose one every day this holiday season.
- Who makes you laugh?
- What went especially well for you yesterday?
- What is your special talent? How did you come by it, and how can you share it with others?
- What was the most beautiful thing you noticed recently?
- What do you use every day and often take for granted? How does it enrich your life? Who made it and where did it come from?
- What activity makes you happy?
- Have you done something recently of which you are particularly proud?
- Who helps make your life feel richer? And how does he or she do it?
- What do you appreciate most about where you live?
- What’s the best thing that happened to you in the last week? How did it make you happy?
- Whose smile do you love to see?
- What’s the most memorable experience from the last year? Even if it was a sad or unhappy event, did you learn something from it for which you are grateful?
- Has anyone done a good deed for you recently? How did it make you feel?
- Which one of the seven senses do you appreciate most today? Smell, taste, hearing, touch, sight, the vestibular system (balance) or proprioception (sensory information that contributes to the sense of position of self and movement intuitively)?