‘Tis the season when thankfulness is all around. Everywhere you look, you read about gratitude practices and the benefits of being grateful. It’s a natural time to pause, reflect, and be mindful of what makes your life worth living. But what do you do if you're not feeling very thankful?
Maybe you've had a relationship end, a death in your family, or a loved one diagnosed with an illness, and you're reeling from all the emotions. Or perhaps there’s not a specific reason you can put your finger on, but you just aren’t feeling warm and fuzzy.
Regardless of where you are this Thanksgiving season, give yourself a break and recognize that there’s no right or wrong way to do the holiday. And remember that even in the darkest times, there are still things in your life to be grateful for, and those can be celebrated. Keep these five tips in mind to open up your heart to thankfulness.
One of the simplest ways to begin reclaiming your gratitude is by remembering to receive gratefully. Rather than prioritizing giving thanks, focus on receiving. Notice when other people are offering you an expression of sympathy or kindness, and really take a moment to sit with it and bask in the feeling.
Study where that gratitude feeling occurs in your body. Some people feel it in their chest as an expansion or in their throat as a tightening. Others may feel the sensation behind their eyes as a softening.
Noticing where in your body you feel your gratitude can heighten your awareness of that circle of giving and receiving. Receiving gratefully is a great place to begin when you feel depleted of thanks—like you've got nothing left to give.
Take Baby Steps
Give thanks for the simple things in life. Notice the things in your life that can easily be taken for granted and use them as a source of gratitude. Instead of looking for big things, try to find the smallest pieces that tend to get overlooked.
For instance, consider the ice in your fridge. Many places in the world still don't have the luxury of refrigeration today, and to them, instant ice is no small miracle. The gift of running water when you turn on your tap is another gift. Toilet paper, dental floss, contact lenses—it’s amazing how many things you can find as you go about getting ready for work in the morning.
By noticing these everyday items through a lens of thankfulness, you can start an upward spiral of gratitude. When you start to prioritize feeling the miracle of the simple things, suddenly there's an abundance of opportunity for gratitude.
If you're still struggling, take a hint from social media like Facebook, which offers a glance back at memories from your life. Take a moment to look back at posts or glance through a picture album, and see what you were doing a year ago, five years ago, and 10 years ago.
Two things can happen: you can find gratitude for those past moments even though right now doesn’t seem that wonderful or you may experience some gratitude in recognizing just how far you've come. By remembering those times that have shaped who you are, you can gain perspective with where you are now.
You have the ability to change your perspective in any given situation. When you’re feeling down, try reframing your current feeling to include gratitude. If you are working a double shift, find gratitude that at least you are working. If you are temporarily laid off from your job, you can be grateful that you will catch up on your sleep and spend more time with your kids. If you miss your dad when cooking his favorite turkey recipe, find gratitude that he passed on his legacy to you.
There is always a little glimmer of light; the trick is training your brain to look for it. This type of positive thinking works like building a muscle: the more you look for the positive, the more you will train yourself to find it.
Don’t Let Anyone Tell You How to Feel
Just because everyone else is “thankful” doesn’t mean you have to be. Take the pressure off and let yourself become immersed in your feelings for a little while. Throw a pity party with a time limit. Give yourself 10 minutes, an hour, or a day to feel angry, sad, jealous, or frustrated.
It’s not good to suppress your feelings or to try to fake feeling thankful just because the calendar dictates it. Allow your feelings to come out. Your emotional purge can help you out of the downward spiral and back into an upward emotional course.