Lead With Gratitude, Find Resilience This Thanksgiving

Give thanks photo by priscilla du preez

To many people, optimism is simply a triumph over cynicism. It’s looking on the bright side. Seeing the glass as half full. Looking for opportunities rather than setbacks. When times are tough, it makes sense that we try to be optimistic because dwelling on things that are already bad won’t change them. Often, though, being optimistic doesn’t change anything either. We can do ourselves more harm than good by pretending everything will work out no matter what.

Trying to push down negative feelings in the name of optimism is futile and bad for our health. A in the International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research compiled multiple studies showing that inhibiting emotional expression can endanger our health, both physically and psychologically. To cope with hard experiences, we need to be resilient enough to acknowledge our negative emotions while we appreciate the things that motivate us and bring us joy—at the same time. This is where gratitude comes in.

This Thanksgiving, let gratitude be your focus. It’s easy to try to combat the stress that comes with gathering family from far and wide with a big smile and avoidance. A lot of feelings can come up during this time. Thinking about what you are thankful for can help you lead with gratitude and better live in the moment so that you can be joyful and resilient this holiday season. And hopefully it will be the start of a habit you can implement daily.

The Difference Between Optimism And Gratitude

Optimism lives in the future; it’s the hope of something better to come. While that’s a good posture to take when goal setting or gearing up for an exciting challenge, it can be false comfort in uncertain times. In contrast, gratitude is grounded in the present. It can exist alongside fear, grief, anxiety, and a host of other negative feelings. When we don’t know enough about the future to be optimistic, gratitude allows us to find solace in the good things we have in the present.

Be Mindful Of Negative Emotions

When it comes to practicing gratitude, the first thing to address is our mindset. Sometimes we need to recognize what’s not going well in our lives to be able to set it aside and focus on what’s good.

Practicing mindfulness every day is a good way to examine yourself and your surroundings—allowing yourself to give credence to the negative thoughts in your head without dwelling on them. Find a quiet, private moment in the day to express your doubts, fears, and frustrations in a journal, silently to yourself, or in whatever form helps you acknowledge them and put them in a metaphorical box. You can’t get rid of worries, sadness, and anger on command, but acknowledging their existence can help you move forward despite them.

Take Stock Of What You Have

Though we’re taught from grade school that we should count our blessings, most of us don’t make a habit of noting what we’re thankful for daily. When a crisis strikes and we’re facing loss, we’re often not used to acknowledging the good things we have in detail. Luckily, there are habits we can form that expand our senses of gratitude.

A in the journal Psychiatry explored techniques for enhancing gratitude such as journaling, writing thank-you notes, meditating on what you have, or saying the words “thank-you” several times a day. Take the extra step this Thanksgiving and let the important people in your life know that you’re grateful for them. And then continue that practice far past the holiday.

Let Gratitude Lead You

Gratitude inspires response. Because they’re based in the current moment, feelings of gratitude can compel us to start meaningful conversations, take steps to preserve and protect the things that are important to us, and even go out of our way to help other people. Where optimism is good for dreaming, gratitude makes it easier for us to see practical next steps through difficult situations. It keeps us inspired by the things that matter right now.

If you’re feeling paralyzed in a difficult time, figuring out what you’re thankful for can be your first step to get back in motion.

Optimism can do wonders for our well-being when life is stable, but it’s gratitude that keeps us grounded, comforts us, and keeps us moving when the future is uncertain. Whether you’re struggling through a tough time or holding steady, you can turn one small act of gratitude into a daily habit that will focus you and build your resilience for whatever is to come. Let this week’s holiday propel you into a new mindset of gratitude.

What are some of your favorite ways to show gratitude toward those you love? Let us know on our page. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter for other insightful articles and research.

Support Indigenous Americans this Thanksgiving! Start by finding out what native land you live on with this from NPR.

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