The Ritual of Gratitude
What do you think of when you think of “rituals”? For me, the word conjures up Shabbat dinners, Passover seders, and lighting the Hannukah menorah. Growing up in a Jewish household, we observed these rituals at the proper time on the calendar, and I always found they were an opportunity to take a step back from the other routines of life and reflect on the theme of the holiday.
With Thanksgiving coming, many of us are preparing for a popular ritual: A big dinner, likely comprised of turkey (or Tofurkey), cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, amongst other goodies. In the air is a general sense that the theme is gratitude. But do you actually take time to express your gratitude on Thanksgiving, or do you just stuff yourself silly? And do you find yourself uplifted during this season, or like so many, do sadness and anxiety creep in?
Expressing Thanks on Thanksgiving
In my family, we usually go around the Thanksgiving table at some point and each say something we’re grateful for. I like this ritual. Expressing gratitude is scientifically proven through positive psychology research to increase happiness. It gives us a sense of our own goodness (it’s sure more self-affirming than complaining!) as well as a recognition of the good things around us.
I have noticed that there’s often a level of discomfort in expressing gratitude publicly, even amongst family. But everyone still does it and I always feel more connected with the family after we express our gratitude. People often give thanks for food and health, for something that has happened in the past, or for being safe given specific world events. This year, the sense of gratitude will be very real given that I will be with my sister’s in-laws who have family in Puerto Rico.
It occurs to me that there is also a deeper level we can reach: a direct personal expression. I’m inspired this year to bring a deeper aspect of gratitude to our Thanksgiving ritual.
A New Gratitude Ritual?
There’s a video series on the Science of Happiness that came out in 2013 and that for some reason I just saw for the first time last week. The experiment in the video was based, I believe, on research by Martis E.P. Seligman, who found that people who wrote and delivered letters of gratitude exhibited a huge increase in happiness compared to a control group. In the video, individuals were asked to write a letter to a person who influenced them and then to read it to that person. Before and after the exercise, their happiness was tested. Overall, there was a strong trend toward more happiness after the individuals read their letters to their recipients.
This has me thinking, what if we take time this Thanksgiving to appreciate someone in the room who has made a difference in our lives, in addition to the standard things we’re grateful for? To me, that will make for an even more memorable Thanksgiving and will likely start out my holiday season—and the holidays of anyone who participates—with a higher happiness quotient.
What’s in Your Gratitude Basket?
What are you grateful for this holiday season? Who will be at your Thanksgiving table to whom you want to offer gratitude for the way they’ve influenced your life? Are you willing to go the extra step to express your feelings to them? And if you won’t be with someone who fits that category, would you be willing to write a letter and read it to the recipient?
Let’s get the gratitude ball rolling, and bring it into all aspects of our lives. Into our home, our relationships, and our workplaces. The science shows we’ll all have more well-being, motivation, and overall success.
In that spirit, thank you for reading my blog week after week, letting me know I make a difference, and inspiring me to bring my thoughts and creativity to life. You give me a weekly boost in my own gratitude and happiness. Thank you and enjoy your Thanksgiving ritual!
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