The month of November means Thanksgiving in the United States. Traditionally, Thanksgiving involved setting aside time to reflect on and be grateful for that year’s harvest. To me, November is a month-long opportunity to explore gratitude at a deeper level. We can all take steps to heighten our awareness and depth of gratitude. But first, we must understand how to think about gratitude.
I like to think of gratitude as an energy source. Imagine that your mental energy is connected to a TV cable, with hundreds of channels broadcasting 24 hours a day. You have the ability to tune into any number of channels of awareness, including your personal gratitude channel. When you visualize switching on your gratitude channel, your consciousness becomes focused on giving thanks.
But what if you are angry with someone? Is it still possible to tune into the gratitude channel? Yes! Think broadly: are you grateful that this person is in your life? Are you grateful for something this person did for you in the past? Remember, it does not mean that the anger is no longer there – when you switch back to the anger channel – but you can change your awareness at that moment: change your channel to gratitude. This month, practice tuning into the gratitude channel more often. The rewards are well worth the effort: increased calmness, greater happiness and deeper connection with others.
The circle of gratitude
The circle of gratitude requires two components to be complete: awareness and expression. Awareness is the first step towards gratitude: we have to tune into our gratefulness. Equally important is the second component: expression. The circle of gratitude is like breathing: you must inhale (awareness) and exhale (expression). However, unlike breathing, gratitude requires conscious awareness and effort.
Expressing gratitude is a sacred act
Imagine expressing gratitude as a prayer or meditation. If you approach gratefulness with the highest respect, it will be more meaningful and genuine. Conversely, fake gratitude is negative for both the sender and the receiver. If social convention requires a “thank you” when you are not truly thankful, try to be as genuine as you can and do not gush. Try to think of a specific aspect of the situation that you can honestly thank the person for.
If you do not feel grateful in the moment, you may be able to later reflect and provide a more heartfelt thank you at that time. If you do not experience a thankful mindset after reflecting on the matter, take time to review what is blocking you from gratitude. Perhaps you are angry with the person about something else, and this is stopping you from accessing gratitude towards them.
There are two core facets to becoming more aware of gratitude and expressing it more fully and often. The first is expanding the range of gratitude to others. The second is increasing our depth of gratitude, and its expression to others. Below are two simple exercises to increase breadth and depth of gratefulness.
Breadth of Gratitude Exercise– Take out a sheet of paper and make 2 columns. In the first line of the first column, write the name of a person you have not sufficiently thanked in the past. This person may be a colleague at work who did something small for you last week and you have not yet thanked them, or perhaps someone who has done something more major for you, for which you feel you have not fully expressed your gratitude. Set about writing a list of names in the first column, and go about thanking each one. The expression of thanks may be by email, text, phone call, written note or in person. In the second column, record the date on which you thanked the person in the first column. The goal of this exercise is to identify and complete the expression of gratitude with as many people as you can. You may wish to do this exercise often to practice widening your breadth of gratitude.
Depth of Gratitude Exercise– In addition to breadth, exploring and expressing gratitude at deeper levels can enhance your experience of gratitude. For this exercise, choose a person and write a letter exploring how they have positively impacted your life in a way that you are deeply grateful for. The letter might refer to a single act, or alternatively, an ongoing series of interactions. This will likely be quite an emotional process for you as you work to understand and express the importance of the other person in your life. When you are finished, make a plan to send the letter, or deliver it in person.
Practicing both breadth and depth of gratitude can help you tune in to the gratitude channel more often. This November, remember to be aware of and express your thankfulness, and notice the rewards. As you increase your awareness and expression of gratitude, you might find that you have less time for self-pity, frustration and anger, and more energy for positive interactions.
Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.