Make Every Day One of Thanks Giving

When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.
— Willie Nelson

If forgiveness is a superpower then gratitude is a get out of jail free card, especially if your mind tends to imprison you, against your will, in a tiresome loop of negative, self-destructive, often crippling thoughts.

There's no shortage of scientific evidence to prove that gratitude is good for you, in case you're in need of convincing:

  • a 2014 study at the University of New South Wales in Australia showed that thanking a new acquaintance for their help makes it more likely that that acquaintance will seek an ongoing friendship with you. And we all know the many health benefits of friends!

  • grateful people are more likely to look after their health, report higher levels of physical and emotional well-being, exercise more often and are more likely to keep up with their wellness visits, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences

  • gratitude dilutes toxic emotions like envy and resentment, increasing happiness and warding off depression, according to Robert Emmons, a gratitude researcher at the University of California at Davis

  • according to a 2011 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science (called A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart), gratitude can act as the antidote to aggression by kindling empathy and sensitivity toward others

  • a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that 15 minutes of evening gratitude journaling helped students sleep better by replacing worrisome thoughts with positive ones just before bed

  • practicing gratitude fosters resilience and mental strength in those with severe trauma, according to a 2006 study of veterans suffering from PTSD

But gratitude doesn't come naturally to everyone. Some people are gloomy and prone to pessimism by habit; they can't help but wallow in self-pity and forever claim victimhood, feeling sorry for themselves long after everyone else has ceased feeling sorry for them.

It's all too easy for some to surrender to life's grind, letting events and circumstances wear them down until they come to expect more bad news at every turn. But choosing a mindset of relentless optimism is the ultimate antidote; it's the choice you can make -- the one that's always available to you -- to see the glass as neither half empty nor half full but rather as containing whatever it is that you need, no more and no less.

Luckily the gratitude muscle is something that can be developed and strengthened without too much effort. I've used gratitude journaling to find my way through dark times, to help remind myself how lucky I am to be healthy, to be loved, to be awake, to be productive, and I recommend this practice to people I work with who seem stuck in self-pity and who need a little help getting out of their own way.

Matt Kelly, of the ManKind Project, offers the following thirty prompts as meditations for getting in touch with your inner gratefulness. Matt suggests thinking about one prompt per day (you can also come up with your own if you're not crazy about his list) and then journaling your thoughts on each prompt for five minutes before bed.

  1. Who is a teacher or mentor that has made an impact on your life and how did they help you?

  2. Remember a family tradition for which you are grateful.

  3. What do you like the most about where you live?

  4. Spend time in your favorite location in your house, coffee shop, or a place you feel comfortable.

  5. What is one something you’ve learned in the last seven days that you're thankful for?

  6. Find something that makes you smile today.

  7. What purchase, less than $100, has added value to your life.

  8. Recall the biggest positive lesson you learned in childhood.

  9. Share your gratitude with two other people today.

  10. Encounter your favorite smell, sight or sound.

  11. Savor your favorite taste.

  12. Pamper yourself today.

  13. Who is someone you’ve not met, but who has helped you in some way?

  14. How is your life more positive today than it was a year ago?

  15. What do you like about you?

  16. List 10 skills you have.

  17. Thank someone who helped you solve a problem.

  18. What is your favorite part of your daily routine?

  19. Read something that is inspirational to you.

  20. What is your favorite part of the holidays?

  21. What is your favorite movie and why do you love it?

  22. Enjoy nature today.

  23. Consider a recent obstacle you faced and overcame.

  24. List 10 things you want to do in 2019.

  25. Indulge in your favorite food.

  26. Who makes your life better and how?

  27. If you’re single, what is your favorite part about being single? Or if you’re married, what is your favorite part about being married?

  28. What is one positive thing you can say about today’s weather?

  29. Describe a weird family tradition that you love?

  30. Remember a genuine belly laugh?

Could you make a commitment to journaling about the things you're grateful for for five minutes a day for thirty days? A month of giving thanks for the many blessings in your life?

If you're prone to pessimism and self-pity then practicing gratitude could very well be your exit strategy. Get in the habit of reminding yourself, regularly, of all the things you have to be thankful for. This is the perfect time of year to start.