Why is Thanksgiving The Healthiest Holiday?

What if you could implement in your routine a five-minute-a-day practice that would make you happier, more patient, sleep better, have better relationships, make you more generous and empathetic, decrease your overall suffering, and improve your overall well-being?

Would you do it?

Practicing gratitude regularly will put you on that path. In addition to spending time with family, good food, and football, Thanksgiving is a reminder that we should be grateful for what we have. Unfortunately, like every other holiday, it only happens once a year … unless you make it a habit.

One of the reasons gratitude is so beneficial is that it effectively shifts focus away from emotions that are unhealthy. What are the two most destructive emotions? Fear and anger. Neither of them can co-exist with gratitude. When you’re focused on how fortunate you are, you can’t at the same time be focused on thoughts that invoke those negative emotions.

Gratitude also counterbalances desire, which unrestrained, can also wreak havoc on your emotional well-being. It’s healthy to strive for improvement, to want more. But without appreciation to balance that craving, you end up on the hedonic treadmill: wanting more, getting it, but putting off happiness until you get even more after that, and so on.

What you focus on has a significant impact on the quality of your life. If you’re constantly giving attention to your fears or your desires, you live in negativity. On the other hand, appreciation puts you in a positive state, which is the launching pad for personal growth and happiness.

Why is it that some of the poorest people in the slums of Mumbai, India have almost permanent smiles on their faces while billionaires are committing suicide? Of course, there isn’t a simple answer. But a significant factor is that the person living in the ghetto of Mumbai is grateful for what he has rather than being focused on his shortcomings and what he lacks.

How can you cultivate gratitude?

An easy way to practice gratitude is journaling. No need to write a novel every day. Just a few words consistently—five minutes a day will do the trick. For example, take the time every morning to write three things you’re grateful for.

It’s more effective if you change the object of gratitude regularly, and mix in bigger things (health, a person in your life) with little things (your morning cup of coffee or a food someone recently gave you).

You can also write thank you notes more often. Your spouse, parent, child or friend does something nice for you, write a thank you note.

If you really want to take it to the next level, you can incorporate meditation. Meditation helps quiet our often loud and obnoxious minds. It essentially helps you step back from your thoughts and feelings and view and process them objectively. Instead of feeling fear or anger and reacting, you say “Oh look, it’s fear” or “Oh look, it’s anger.” Because of the change in perspective, you’re better able to manage these emotions constructively. Having a quiet mind makes it easier to focus on what’s positive—especially in the midst of adversity.

As you’re sitting around the table, enjoying time with your family and friends, take the time to practice gratitude. And at least once a year, you’ll be reminded that if you say thank you more often, you can exponentially increase the quality of your life.

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