The Gifts of Gratitude
Educator Wellness Coach for OT
It’s here! The highly anticipated start of the holiday season is upon us! After months of isolation and virtual connections, the opportunity to spend time together in person with family and friends has us almost giddy with excitement and a bit overwhelmed, too. The roadways will be full and the airports buzzing this week as we head toward a sense of “normalcy” in connecting with those we love in celebration of Thanksgiving. The timing couldn’t be more perfect!
Living and working in the shadow of the pandemic has taken its toll on everyone. The impact on our lives and in our schools is palpable. The collective pause to focus on Thanksgiving holds the promise of being the greatest gift of all this holiday season. We are ready for some respite from the storm! The time away will renew and recharge us. Likely, in ways we can’t fully understand. That’s the gift of Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving (n), by definition, is the celebration of gratitude (the quality of being thankful). Gratitude is an often celebrated, powerful wellness practice that is sometimes undervalued as a resource in our daily lives. Yet, researchers and practitioners alike tout it as a powerful elixir for the challenges we face. Practicing gratitude, in whatever form it takes, can release us from toxic emotions and have a lasting effect on our brain (Brown and Wong, 2017) The mind - body connection is clear.
Thoughtfully reflecting on what we are thankful for can help us “feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships” (Harvard School of Medicine, 2021) while “removing us from anxiety, sadness, loneliness, regret, and envy.” (Burton, 2019). Gratitude is, as Oprah suggests, “the quickest, easiest, most powerful way to effect change in your life” (2014).
Could it really be that easy? Thankfully, the answer is YES!
Gratitude bears a cornucopia of gifts. Psychologists celebrate the concept as one of the easiest ways to rewire our brains to see the positive. They’ve found that practicing gratitude trains our brain to fire in more positive ways - inspiring feelings of love, appreciation, generosity and compassion (Greenberg, 2011). In the popular book, The Happiness Advantage, psychologist Shawn Achor lists gratitude as the first of five daily habits that his research suggests can transform our lives by rewiring our brain. The simple, yet powerful, act of dedicating time each day to intentionally ponder three things we are grateful each day (Achor, 2010) for can have a tremendous impact in our lives, strengthening our relationships, improving the climate in our workplaces, and preventing burnout (Allen, 2018).
As with the feast of Thanksgiving, gratitude can take many forms in our lives. There is no perfect recipe we must follow. Whether you choose to keep a journal, write a thank you note, show kindness or appreciation for others, call a friend, or meditate is up to you. At a time when to-do lists are long and time is short, it may seem counterintuitive to start something new. But, this is when we need gratitude most. It can bring satisfaction and stronger connection with others. It may even help you get more sleep and feel more refreshed. (Emmons and McCullough, 2003).
So, as we head off into the holiday season, let’s ask ourselves . . .
What gifts of Thanksgiving will be on our menu this year?
For more information, visit:
Greater Good Magazine: Science-based Insights for a Meaningful Life University of California, Berkeley
Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Broadway Books.
Allen, Summer. (2018). The Science of Gratitude [White Paper]. Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley.
Brown, Joshua and Wong, Joel. “How Gratitude Changes Your Brain.” Greater Good Magazine, June 6, 2017
Psychology Today. November 27, 2019
Emmons, Robert A. and Michael E. McCullough Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 2003, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377–389
Fernandez, Celia and Copeland, Shelby. “80 Thanksgiving Quotes to Share With Your Family ‘ Reflect upon your present blessings’.” Oprah Daily. September 22, 2021
Greenberg, Melanie. “The Seven Best Gratitude Quotes: Develop a gratitude practice to open your heart and rewire your brain.” Psychology Today. November 23, 2011
Harvard Medical School. “Giving thanks can make you happier.” Harvard Health Publishing. August 14, 2021.
Winfrey, Oprah. (2014). What I know for sure. New York: Flatiron Books