Thanksgiving and the Practice of Gratitude

Studies show that focusing on gratitude helps lower stress and alleviate depression. We can cultivate gratitude year-round, and Thanksgiving is one of the most natural times to do so.

In The How of Happiness, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky explains that “grateful thinking promotes the savoring of positive life experiences. By relishing and taking pleasure in some of the gifts of your life, you will be able to extract maximum possible satisfaction and enjoyment from your current circumstance.” And that increases happiness.

Larissa Hall Carlson, Kripalu Schools faculty member and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, suggests making a gratitude list each night: Take a moment before bed to identify three things you’re thankful for. They can be big or small moments that occurred over the course of your daya promotion, a great first date, a soulful conversation, or a warming cup of tea.

In a similar vein, Kripalu faculty member Maria Sirois, PsyD, recommends asking yourself, What was the best moment today? Reflecting on the positive allows you to reexperience something pleasurable, boosting both resilience and happiness.

Because the holidays can be so complicated, and family dynamics can be challenging, Maria says it’s important to see each Thanksgiving as a new beginning.

When family get-togethers bring up old patterns, Maria cautions against falling victim to what she calls “black and white thinking”assuming everyone is having a better Thanksgiving than we are, that our family is the worst ever, or that things will never change. Just because last year’s holiday was a bust doesn’t mean things will go awry this time. But when a holiday falls short of your expectations, bringing full appreciation for what did work can help put the day in perspective. 

Another way to practice gratitude is through mindfulnessbeing aware of the present moment. Larissa finds that she can better appreciate her time with family on Thanksgiving by focusing on their company and practicing mindful eating—chewing slowly, while savoring the smell, taste, and texture of the food. Give it a try!