It’s hard to be thankful on command. Yet, this time of year, we are inundated with reminders to do just that. “Thanks” is literally in the name of the holiday. And every year, like clockwork,Thanksgiving is thrust upon us at the end of November. And we are asked to give thanks. Sometimes on command as we sit around the gourded table.
Turns out, this is a good thing. The Harvard Health Newsletter states that in “positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Consciously focusing on what we are thankful for cultivates a positive energy that can permeate our psyche and color our perceptions going forward.
The feeling of gratitude can be humbling, exhilarating, sweet like honey, or gentle as a soft rain on a summer day. We all have big things we might conjure up to be grateful for. Perhaps it was the time a friend stood up for you. Or when someone literally saved your life or the life of someone you love. These big “Thanksgivings” come from a sense of relief for the service provided.
Gratitude training for your brain
While they are vitally important, you may miss the opportunity to cultivate an ongoing Thanksgiving practice that seeks out the little, everyday things. Like the moonlight, a comfortable chair, a good hair day, the ability to type these words, hot water, sunlight on autumn leaves, socks that don’t fall down and get trapped all bunched up under your feet, the food on your plate, stars, the smell of salty sea air, mountains, and being here this very moment. stars, the smell of salty sea air, mountains, and being here this very moment.
Getting in the habit of looking for things to be thankful for brings to your awareness more things to be thankful for which increases your internal state of well being. Training your mind to notice and acknowledging the things and people in your life you are thankful for has another positive outcome. While your awareness is occupied looking for people and things to appreciate, it’s not busy worrying. Change your focus and you will be thankful that you did. Don’t worry. Be grateful.
Putting it into practice
Here’s a mindfulness exercise to use with your students to help jumpstart a peaceful mindset.
For the next few minutes we’re going to take a break from the ordinary world to relax and de-stress. Push yourself back into your chair and pretend there’s a string at the top of your head gently pulling it up so your back is straight. You can close your eyes or hold your gaze softly on the floor a few feet in front of you.
As we do the following breathing, imagine your breath filling your belly with air like a balloon. Place your hand on your belly and feel it rise and fall with each breath.
We’re going to take in a slow deep breath as you breathe through your nose to the word SLOW and out to the word BREATH. Feel how the breath is cool as it enters your nose and then warmed by your body on the exhale. Keep your eyes closed and your mental focus on the tip of your nose as the air goes in and out. We’ll do this 4 times.
IN SLOW 2, 3, 4. OUT BREATH 2, 3, 4. 5
Three more breaths IN SLOW… (continue)
Keep paying attention to your breathing as you listen to these words.
When we practice being thankful for the things and people in our lives, it makes us feel good inside and positive about our lives.
Think about some of the things you like. Perhaps something you love to eat, or a sport or activity that makes you happy. Perhaps it’s a game or movie or show you like. Let yourself think of as many things as you can that you love. (pause) Now focus on one of those things. Imagine yourself doing that thing, whatever it is. What is the setting? What specifically are you doing in that imaginary scene? Who’s with you? How does it feel to do this thing you love doing?
Now picture in your mind a person who you care about. Someone who makes you smile inside just thinking of them. Where are they right now? Picture them at their office, at their job, at their desk, at home, outside playing, or wherever they may be. Picture their face, their eyes, their hair color, their smile, what they might be wearing. Notice how good it feels to have them in your life. (pause) Pick a second person. Maybe a parent, or a friend, or an aunt, or uncle and picture that person in detail… their face, their smile, their kindness. Become aware of the gift it is to know them. Breathe in and out.
Let’s silently, in our minds, express our appreciation for the people and things in mind that bring us happiness, You can send a simple “thank you” from your heart. Connecting with your heart like this fills it up with positive energy, You can do this anytime and anywhere to keep filling it up. Simply focus your attention on the middle of your chest, your heart area. Imagine that your heartbeats are sending a vibration of thanks to the people and things you love. Let the rhythm of this message expand out from your body and travel across time and space with your thankfulness.
Let’s do one more Slow Breath together. Breathe in SLOW 2, 3, 4. OUT BREATH 2, 3, 4, 5.
Slowly wiggle your fingers and toes and open your eyes.
Who can you try this exercise with?