Many cultures around the world have traditions and festivals for celebrating a bountiful harvest. In the United States, this autumn holiday has grown and evolved in the hundreds of years since hungry English colonists first sat down to a feast with their Wampanoag hosts. Our modern Thanksgiving is about more than simply having enough food to survive the winter (although that is certainly a reason to be thankful!). It's now common to express gratitude for all kinds of good things in our lives--such as having a safe home, friendly neighbors, good health, and meaningful hobbies.
While it has become something of a buzzword in recent years, gratitude is more than a passing trend. Humans may actually be wired to feel thankful. There's even science showing that a grateful state of mind is objectively good for us! According to this 2021 article from Harvard Medical School, "gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness." Appreciating the good things in one's life "helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships." Psychology Today claims that grateful people "feel less pain...suffer insomnia less, have stronger immune systems...and do better academically and professionally."
Gratitude is related to mindfulness, a meditation practice which headspace.com describes as "the idea of learning how to be fully present and engaged in the moment." In other words, we must slow down and notice the present, if we are to recognize that the present is good.
Psychologists suggest that mindfulness and gratitude, like other habits, become stronger with practice. Start small, and give yourself space to improve over time. A good place to begin is by simply taking a few minutes each day to notice what makes you happy. Then, try writing down notes, or even keeping a gratitude journal, to help stretch your thankful attitude throughout the day. Finally, good feelings are meant to be shared. Learn to express your gratitude openly, to increase its impact. Maybe that will look like writing a thank-you note, congratulating someone for a job well-done, or promoting a local business. The possibilities are endless! Once you've spent November becoming a gratitude guru, you'll certainly want to carry that attitude with you for all of 2023.
With that in mind, here's half a dozen suggested reads from the CPL catalog, to help you explore this topic further:
Gratitude, by Oliver Sacks: During the last few months of his life, neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a set of essays in which he movingly explored his feelings about completing a life and coming to terms with his own death. Together, they form an ode to the uniqueness of each human being and to gratitude for the gift of life.
Thanks a Thousand, by A.J. Jacobs: The idea was deceptively simple: New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs decided to thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey takes him across the globe, transforms his life, and reveals secrets about how gratitude can make us all happier, more generous, and more connected.
Good Morning, I Love You, by Shauna L. Shapiro: Dr. Shapiro explains the basic brain science and offers numerous mindfulness and self-compassion practices. Stories from her life and research demonstrate how this powerhouse combination alleviates anxiety, boosts creative thinking, and enlarges our sense of belonging and purpose.
An Attitude of Gratitude, by Keith D. Harrell: The lessons presented in this heartfelt memoir--learned from his parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, mentors and friends--along with faith in God and unflagging attitude helped the author overcome many obstacles in his life, including stuttering.
How to Love the World, edited by James Crews: How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope offers readers uplifting, deeply felt, and relatable poems by well-known poets from all walks of life and all parts of the US, including inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, Joy Harjo, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ross Gay, Tracy K. Smith, and others, inviting readers to use poetry as part of their daily gratitude practice.
The Gratitude Diaries, by Janice Kaplan: In this New York Times bestseller, Janice Kaplan spends a year living gratefully and transforms her marriage, family life, work and health. Her pioneering research was praised in People and Vanity Fair and hailed on TV shows including Today, The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's The Talk.