The Practice of Gratitude


It speaks a great deal about our culture and the human condition that we need a specific day set aside to give thanks. We are hard wired to default to danger rather than safety, threat rather than thanks. For good reason, our nervous system responds much more rapidly and vigorously to threat than to security. Simply consider how rapidly your heart rate increases in response to threat compared to how long it takes for your heart rate to slow once the threat is removed. The same nervous system that protects us from physical danger responds in the same way to perceived social or emotional threat. In our fast paced, always on culture, we risk never recognizing the good as we constantly scan and respond to the threat.


The intentional practice of gratitude disciplines us to recognize and respond to the good things that happen on a daily basis. Gratitude is associated with a variety of positive health benefits ranging from an increase in the subjective feeling of wellbeing to measurable physiologic changes. 


As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day this week, I invite you to consider one of these two intentional disciplines of gratitude. 


Consider keeping a gratitude journal. There is something permanent and substantial about writing down thoughts. Just thinking or even speaking is somehow less than writing. I find that writing by hand is even different from typing on a computer. There is greater thought and intention when ink is on paper. The gratitude journal captures the daily events about which we are grateful in this substantial way. Set aside ten or so minutes at the end of each day for journaling. Write about three things that made you feel gratitude. Write in as much detail as you can reliving the moment and the emotions you felt.  


Consider writing a gratitude letter. Martin Seligman describes this practice in his book Flourish. In short, the practice involves recalling a person who had a positive impact in your life who you have not had the opportunity to thank. After considering this person, their actions, and the way in which they changed your life, write a letter specifically thanking them for their influence in your life. Where possible deliver the letter in person or mail it.


The Horizons Community wishes you all a very grateful Thanksgiving.


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