The practice of gratitude has amazing daily benefits, improving overall health and wellbeing in every aspect of life. Gratitude elevates, energizes and transforms. Considered the strongest predictor of life satisfaction, gratitude keeps us close to God, improves relationships and increases happiness levels. Martin Luther referred to gratitude as “The basic Christian attitude” and today it is still referred to as “the heart of the gospel.”
As you prepare for the upcoming holidays (which can unfortunately be tainted by stress, struggles and ‘the blues’) consider a new countdown tradition of celebrating The 12 Days of Thanksgiving. Include your friends and family in sharing some of these practices. It will change your life!
The 12 Days of Thanksgiving
1. Count your blessings
What are you grateful for today that you already have in your life?
Thank God for everything. Make a list of the the people, provisions, situations, opportunities and His presence in your life.
Keep a gratitude Journal
Before going to bed at night, consider at least three things about your day that you are grateful for and the reasons why. Jot these down in a journal.
Fill a gratitude blessing bowl
Use a special bowl to place notes of paper that express gratitude. Put marbles or stones in a bowl, representing each heartfelt appreciation.
Create a thankful tree
Write what you are grateful for on tags and hung them on a large branch or small tree.
2. Be aware and remind yourself
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you. (1 Thes. 5:18)
Savor the moments and events you can be thankful for. Enjoy the taste of a good meal. Be attentive to good times with people. Take a mental picture of the beauty of your surroundings. Use all your senses to heighten your experience and create memories you can recall and relive later. Use photos, DVD’s, journals, images – because it’s easy to forget the goodness and kindness shown to us by God, how we have made it through hard times.
3. Write thank you notes
Send handwritten thank you notes or letters of appreciation and affirmation whenever possible. These are becoming a lost art, one of our most cherished treasures. I save every hand written card.
4. Give gestures of gratitude
Think of the people in your life you would like to express gratitude to with a meaningful gift or a ‘heart gift’. What would be a significant gift to them from you?
Unconditional love. Patience. Hope. Encouragement. Appreciation. Affirmation. Forgiveness. Happiness and joy. Compassion. Freedom. Time. Your presence. Talents. Skill.
5. Express intentional appreciation
Intentionally be aware of what others do to be helpful, kind and considerate. Say thank you. Show genuine appreciation. It improves your relationships. We all like to feel loved, valued and appreciated. Out of a grateful heart, pass on goodness and kindness to those close to you, who serve you, who are kind to you, who touch your life in some way.
6. Experience the presence of God through gratitude
According to Jonathan Edwards (1746/1959) the “affection” of gratitude is one of the most accurate ways of finding the presence of God in your life. Love, praise and gratitude are the most experienced emotion acknowledging God’s generosity to us. Instead of just a simple a sentimental feeling, Christian gratitude is a virtue that shapes our emotions, thoughts and actions.
7. Let go and forgive with a grateful perspective
Gratitude is the cure for excessive materialism, envy, resentment, disappointment, bitterness – and other states that hinder our happiness. A woman once shared that she had been a victim of a racial crime and was so filled with anger and hatred that is was destroying her life. “Just the one shift in my perspective to be grateful and focus on the good in my life changed my heart and set me free from all the cords of bitterness and hatred.”
8. Reword your inner story
Hundreds of automatic negative thoughts go through our mind each day, distorting the narrative of our life story, our beliefs, our emotions and our behaviors. When you ruminate on these lies, negative events or un-forgiveness, you feed your stress response and increase negative emotions. You hinder thriving in your intended destiny. However, disputing these by shifting your thoughts and words to focus on the truth, what you appreciate and are grateful for, creates a calming effect and increases positive emotions like joy and peace.
9. Flow Gratitude forward
When you are aware of the goodness and blessings you are grateful for, it naturally overflows to others with a desire to ‘flow forward’. This may be expressed by putting money in expired parking meters, volunteering with the poor, making meals for those in need, buying Christmas gifts for those who wouldn’t get one or just ‘being there’ when you can make a difference.
10 Feel appreciation in your heart
According to the ‘gratitude doctors’, feeling genuine gratitude and appreciation in your heart – literally – changes the state of your body and the neurons of your brain. The benefits are less stress, a healthier body, higher energy level, vitality, optimism, better memory and positive emotions like hope and happiness.
11. Make a gratitude visit
Write a ‘Gratitude Letter’ to someone who has had a positive influence on your life and you would like to thank. Describe the benefits you received in detail, how that made you feel. If possible, pay a visit and read your letter in person, expressing an exchange of gratitude emotions. Both of you will benefit.
12. Being grateful helps you deal with hard times
Gratitude brings alive what is good in life and may be even more valuable in difficult times. The challenges and stresses of the holiday season tend to override the brain to focus on fears, pain and other negative emotions.
However, cultivating positive emotions like love and gratitude – along with the reality of stress and challenges – can change your attitude and provide necessary vitality to make the most of the season.
Question: What are you most grateful for today?