Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So many of us are overwhelmed with preparations: huge mountains of food, decorations, places for out-of-town guests to sleep, travel if you happen to be the out-of-town guest, activities to occupy the children. It’s no surprise in the midst of all that, we might forget to focus on the purpose of the holiday: giving thanks.
Giving thanks and being grateful have more benefits than just making a list of your blessings so you can keep track of them. Being grateful is a stress buster. It releases feel-good dopamine and other endorphins and changes your brain chemistry to positive. This turns on all the learning centers in your brain.
Your brain at positive actually performs better in all measures than your brain at negative, neutral, or stressed. Your energy levels improve, accuracy increases, and speed improves. You are smarter and more creative.
You may be asking, “How can I be happy? What do I have to be grateful for? You don’t know all my problems.” You’re right – I don’t. But positive psychology researchers say that outer circumstances only predict 10% of your happiness. 90% of your long-term happiness is determined by the way your brain processes the world. 75% of job success depends on your support network, your optimism levels and whether you perceive stress as a challenge or a threat.
So how do you get these benefits? Try one of these gratitude exercises:
List 3 new things you are grateful for each day for 21 days. This retrains your brain to scan the world for the positive instead of the negative.
Journaling one positive thing that has happened to you in the past 24 hours allows you to relive it. This releases those feel-good hormones all over again, with all their great effects.
Meditation allows our brains to focus on a single task. In a world that is ADD with multi-tasking, this allows us to get in the zone and finish something.
Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters. There are well-documented studies (Duke University, 2000) showing that exercise works almost as well as antidepressants to counter clinical depression. Just think of the benefits if you weren’t depressed to start with!
Send one kind email or text daily, praising or thanking someone in your support network. This builds your social network. Strong social networks help people live longer.
Watch the TED talk below, and have a great Thanksgiving!