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November 21, 2007 > More Reasons To Be Thankful This Thanksgiving Season

More Reasons To Be Thankful This Thanksgiving Season

By Anne Chan, MS, MFT

One of the first words I taught my son was "thank you." I insisted on this not because I'm a rabid Ms. Manners, but because I wanted him to understand the power of gratitude.

It's easy for us to overlook the good around us - many of us have the natural tendency to focus on what's wrong, rather than what's right. We are also saturated with gloom and doom much of the time. The media bombards us with news about what's wrong with the world. Magazine covers urge us to improve our sex lives, lose weight, and look younger for our age. Our typical conversation topics often include moaning and groaning about our aches and pains, or griping about our kids, our partners, our in-laws, and so on.

"What's wrong with focusing on the negative?" you may ask.

There's nothing wrong with self-improvement or self-help, but a complete focus on the negative can have detrimental effects. Recent psychological research has shown that focusing on the negative can drastically affect our physical and emotional well-being.

On the other hand, focusing on the positive and having an attitude of gratefulness can be profoundly beneficial. A research team at UC Davis is currently doing in-depth research on gratitude. So far, they have found that those who kept gratitude journals had fewer physical complaints, did more regular exercise, felt more positive about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who noted down negative life events. Another study involving gratitude exercises found that those who did these exercises experienced more enthusiasm, energy, attentiveness, and determination.

The research thus far makes a compelling case for the power of gratitude. If you want to apply this research in your own life, try these simple ways to incorporate gratitude into your life:

Keep a daily gratitude journal in which you write down five things that you are grateful for.

When you tuck your children into bed, create a ritual for talking about what they are thankful for that day.

At meal-times, have each person at the meal say what they are grateful for.

Start your day by thinking of one thing you are thankful for.

When a negative moment hits, shift your thoughts by asking yourself, "What can this difficult moment teach me?" and "What am I thankful for at this point in time?"

Look at your spouse or partner, set aside the annoying things he/she does, and focus on one aspect of your partner you are grateful for. It might be something like taking the trash out every week without complaint, or washing dishes. You might even want to take this one step further and tell them what you are grateful for.

Look in the mirror - instead of focusing on your flaws or perceived imperfections, focus on one or two things you are grateful for. Maybe it's eyes that see, or a mouth that works, or even for your hair (however much or little you have).

A superb book to guide you on the path of gratitude is "Simple Abundance," by Sara Ban Breathnach. Breathnach's book is an inspiring and thought-provoking collection of essays, quotes and meditations - one for each day of the year. The entire book focuses on cultivating gratitude, appreciating our lives and the people in our lives, and enjoying simplicity. Reading this book will help you to re-think gratitude - it might even be life changing.

Another source of information on gratitude can be found in diverse religious and spiritual traditions. Many religions focus on gratitude as a spiritual value. For instance, Buddhist and Christian texts explicitly spell out the importance of gratitude.

There's even a website devoted to gratefulness - you can learn more about gratitude and become part of a gratitude community by checking out www.gratefulness.org

As you get ready for the holidays, I encourage you to take a few moments now and then from the busyness of the season and reflect on the good you are enjoying in your life. You might be thankful for food on the table this season, or having good friends, or having a strong marriage, or you might be grateful for the ability to breathe or see.

I'm grateful to you for reading this and for picking up this issue of the Tri City Voice. I wish you a very thankful Thanksgiving to you and yours!


Anne Chan is a licensed psychotherapist and career counselor in Union City. She specializes in helping people find maximum satisfaction in their careers and relationships and is grateful for the work she does. She can be reached at achan@midlabs.com or 510-744-1781.


(c) Anne Chan, 2007.


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