Ah, Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday has many reasons to recommend itself:
- Naps are encouraged and even expected.
- Mashed potatoes.
- The Snoopy float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
- Pumpkin pie.
- Anyone can express the sentiment of the occasion without fear of offending or excluding anyone else.
- Leftover mashed potatoes. And leftover pumpkin pie.
- Gratitude, shared and expressed. All day!
Gratitude as a habit
From The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, I learned that more than 40% of the actions we perform each day are not the result of decisions we make, but of habits.
“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort…The brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain requires less room, which makes for a smaller head, which makes childbirth easier and therefore causes fewer infant and mother deaths. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and eventually, airplanes and video games.”
Makes sense to me. When I say “thank you,” it is often just an autonomous protocol; the words are less an authentic expression than they are a response to a cue. (Take, for example, the time I was pulled over for speeding and I thanked the officer when he handed me the $150 ticket. *facepalm*)
Now, there’s nothing WRONG with distributing “thank yous” with abandon; a superfluous expression of appreciation can only sweeten a personal exchange. And I am among those who believe that being grateful should be a habit, one that should be practiced not just one day in late November, but every day.
In fact, there is evidence to suggest that people who contemplate gratitude are happier than those who do not, and those who express their gratitude are happier still.
In “Choose To be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier,” published last weekend in the New York Times, author Arthur C. Brooks shares a suggestion from Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness:
“[Seligman] recommends that readers systematically express gratitude in letters to loved ones and colleagues. A disciplined way to put this into practice is to make it as routine as morning coffee. Write two short emails each morning to friends, family or colleagues, thanking them for what they do.”
I’m not making this stuff up
Need some scientific-ish evidence that this works? Take a look at this video:
I’m not considering giving up my gratitude habit; I just want to practice it more thoughtfully and actively. So starting tomorrow, Thanksgiving, through New Year’s Day, I resolve to supplement my habitual “thank yous” with at least one intentional, written expression of thanks each day. We’ll see where it goes from there.
Heck – I don’t want to wait until tomorrow, so I’ll start now:
When you push aside your green beans on an already-full plate to make room for my posts, I experience equal parts astonishment, humility, and gratitude. Your likes, shares, and most of all your comments make me feel connected and valued in a way that I miss and crave during this year away from teaching. Thank you for trusting that when you click on “READ MORE,” your time will not be wasted: that you will finish the post having learned, or laughed, or even just having found a new way to put on your pants. I appreciate you.
Anyone with me? Make your commitment known in the comments below!