Practicing Gratitude All Year

With the holiday season (as well as the end of the year) upon us, now is the perfect time to recall all the amazing things that have happened to us in the recent past. The holiday season in America essentially started with Thanksgiving. The name itself forces us to pause and have at least one day of gratitude- something crucial that can easily be overlooked and disregarded, yet is a key essential to living a more fulfilling life. I want to challenge us to practice gratitude way past the last Thursday of November. Then, as a result, maybe we’ll start to love and appreciate our lives a little more than one day of the year.

What is gratitude?

First of all, what is gratitude? Lexico/Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness.” Gratitude evokes a certain prosocial behavior that furthers overall well-being for the human species. What I like about this definition is that it mentions “readiness.” Gratitude contains the readiness, or urgency, to express appreciation for something or someone else, saying, “I’m eager to return the favor and make you happy for this small moment in time because you have shown me the same.” We can’t always control situations, but we can control our responses. Gratitude doesn’t have to be some grand gesture; it could be as simple as holding the door open for someone else or checking up on your friends, but it has to be meaningful and intentional. 

Think small

One way we can start practicing gratitude is by starting with a list. A simple thing I’m learning from church is to write down one thing I’m thankful for each day of the month. It makes me shift from the obvious things to be thankful for, like family and friends, to little things I would never even consider, such as my toast burning that morning. Sometimes small occurrences lead to something more pleasant than originally planned. Writing down one thing can help us reflect back on what happened that day and shift our attention from all the negative occurrences of the day to the one thing that was positive. This can make all the difference in how we view our lives. 

Pay it forward

As we realize that the little things and moments do matter, it pays to pass the kindness forward. I don’t mean you’re going to earn wages for every kind thing you do, but a small act of selflessness can easily change someone else’s life whether you know it or not. Maybe you can bring your friend some soup next time she’s sick, or make sure she gets a ride to the airport after finals. Acts of gratitude like these require us to think about someone else other than ourselves for a change. It pays them. We can easily pass through our lives in a small bubble of minding our own business, only sticking to self-serving decisions. But where’s the fun in that? Our names won’t all be written in history books or engraved onto monuments, but we can be remembered in another way…by the hearts of the people we impact.