This month, a large portion of the population in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a time of reflection and focusing on what we’re grateful for in our lives. However, because 2020 has been an incredibly tough year for so many people, I wondered whether people would be able to find and focus on the things for which they are thankful.
In difficult times, it becomes very easy to focus on the bad instead of the good, the darkness instead of the light, and what we’ve lost instead of what remains. In fact, if you’re one of those people who usually focuses on the negative, you’re not alone. There’s actually extensive research that shows that humans have Negativity Bias, a tendency to not only react to negative stimuli more quickly than positive, but also to focus and dwell on negative events and situations more than they do positive ones. However, the research also shows that taking steps to be more thankful for what we have and show gratitude to others has many positive benefits not only for ourselves, but for the people in our lives.
It Starts with You
Gratitude begins with our thinking process. To refocus on what we’re thankful for, we need to first focus on quieting negative thoughts and negative self-talk. Dr. Laura Cantena is a practicing veterinarian as well as the CEO of The ArmOR Hand Glove Company, maker of The ArmOR Hand Glove, a low-stress animal restraint glove.
“I think it is extremely important to focus on positives and to acknowledge what we are grateful for, even during difficult times. This is because there is always something to be grateful for,” she said. “I’ve become extremely aware of how I talk to myself as well as the thoughts in my head. If they are negative and unhelpful, I change the dialogue.”
Christine Dawson is the owner of Paleo Pet Goods in Webster, Texas outside of Houston. She said she makes a concerted effort to avoid focusing on negative things.
“One thing I have learned is that you get more of what you focus on,” she explained. “I definitely don’t want more negatives in my life, so I choose to focus on all the awesomeness that surrounds me!”
Benefits of Being Thankful
The beauty of gratitude is that it doesn’t cost anything and it’s a powerful tool we can use to get through difficult times.
“It is healthier for us to focus on what is going well versus what is not going in our favor. Difficult times allow us to learn and grow tremendously,” said Cantena. In fact, there are many proven physical and psychological benefits of practicing gratitude.
In his book, “Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity,” gratitude researcher Robert Emmons noted that clinical trials have found that practicing gratitude can have a profound, long-lasting impact on a person’s life.
“It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well-being, and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation,” Emmons wrote.
Keeping a gratitude journal is one way we can all stay focused on the things we’re thankful for in our lives. Writing in a gratitude journal is a great way to spend time at the end of every day reflecting on the things for which we’re thankful. Emmons noted that his research found people are 25 percent happier when they keep a gratitude journal, sleep 30 minutes longer each night, and exercise 33 percent more than people who don’t keep a journal.
He also reported that people with high blood pressure who journaled were able to achieve up to a 10 percent reduction in systolic blood pressure and decrease their dietary fat intake by up to 20 percent.
Let’s List the Reasons
Once you start changing negative internal dialog and actively begin focusing on the positive, you’ll be much better able to see that you probably have a lot to be thankful for in your life, even when times are tough.
“I am very grateful for an amazing staff and loyal customers,” Dawson said. “I focus on building a connected team culture who cares about people and their pet’s health and wellness. I am grateful that I have the focus of building a strong relationship with my staff so they can do the same with each other and our many customers,”
“In veterinary practice, I am grateful for the staff I work with,” said Cantena. “Every single person contributes to making the practice run and, ultimately, our patients receive the best medical care that we can provide.”
Cantena added that what helps her maintain her “attitude of gratitude” is taking the time almost every day to list the things for which she’s grateful. She also credits meditation and always trying to be “in the present moment,” with keeping her focused on what’s important.
The Benefits of Gratitude
It’s not enough just to be thankful though, it’s important that we take time to give thanks to others for what they do for us and for being in our lives. Too often in business, we don’t take the time to give others a sincere “thank you” or provide positive feedback on their performance. However, research has shown that expressing gratitude is key to building strong personal and working relationships.
In fact, a study published in 2014 found that simply saying “thank you,” even to someone you just met, makes them more likely to be cooperative and to have a more positive perception of you. A more recent study published in 2019 found that people who simply witnessed someone else receiving a “thank you,” felt an increased desire to be helpful and supportive not only to the grateful person, but also to the person being thanked, because he or she had done something good that was worthy of appreciation. Finally, Emmons also noted in his book that those who receive sincere appreciation feel more connected to others, have better relationships, and are more altruistic.
Cantena says she tries to show gratitude to others by doing things for them that she believes they will like.
“Sometimes this can mean sending a card or other gift in the mail,” she explained. “Or verbally telling them, ‘I appreciate you/your kindness, etc.’ I think everyone wants to feel seen and valued, so it is important to me that the people in my life know that I am grateful for them.”
Dawson said the expression of gratitude builds a culture of community within her business that is supportive and encouraging.
“I believe that this will be what gets us through the tough times. It is people and good relationships. I am super grateful for possessing this mindset and for the many positives it creates!” Dawson said. “I like to recognize what I appreciate about the people in my life. I prefer to tell people, either in person or in a message. I will use cards for extra special moments too.”