Today’s Solutions: February 23, 2024

Thanksgiving is the time we share what we are grateful for with those around us and spend a bit more time reflecting on it privately. As you read this, perhaps with a belly full of pie, we at The Optimist Daily are reflecting on gratitude as well and how to carry this practice beyond Thanksgiving and into the rest of the year. To start with, let’s dive a little deeper into the science behind gratitude and why giving thanks can make us feel so warm and fuzzy. 

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough, have studied gratitude extensively. In one experiment, they asked half a group of participants to write down a few sentences each week about things they were grateful for and the other half to write down what had displeased them that week. After 10 weeks, the group that had written about gratitude reported feeling more optimistic about their lives and actually reported fewer visits to the doctor than their complaining counterparts. 

We at The Optimist Daily are no strangers to the power of gratitude, but did you know what expressing gratitude can boost your mood and happiness as well? Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, asked participants in his gratitude study to personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone they appreciated and felt had never been properly thanked for their efforts. After making the delivery, the participants had a vastly increased happiness score and with the impacts lasting for a full month. 

The immense power of giving and receiving gratitude is why we collaborated with Lost Art of Love Letters and Santa Barbara Response Network to share a Thankful Thursdays prompt with you each week to send your gratitude out into the world. So far, we have asked you to write gratitude letters to a friend who makes you feel happy and laugh, your favorite non-profit, and an educator. 

Lost Art of Love Letters, started by artist Sondra Weiss, encourages everyone to practice creative letter writing on a wide variety of topics from mental wellness, social justice, and environmental protection to gratitude and self-love. Love letters from her project have made their way to museums, galleries, aquariums, and even the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations where environmental letters written by global youth were read to world leaders. 

Writing letters of gratitude to people, organizations, and even places you love is a great starting place for implementing a practice of gratitude into your life. Something as simple as sending out letters of thanks will impact that person and let them know their work does not go unseen. 

If you’re looking for other ways to practice gratitude, take a page out of Emmons and McCullough’s book and keep a gratitude journal. Each night, take a moment to jot down what you were thankful for that day. This will encourage you to focus on the good and also give you a resource to look back at when you’re feeling blue. Another strategy is to take the Thanksgiving ritual year-round and share one thing you’re grateful for each night at the dinner table with your family. Fortunately, there’s a multitude of ways to practice gratitude. If you’re looking for something more tangible, you can volunteer with a local charity or send thank you care packages to those you appreciate. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s guide on giving for more ideas!

Still looking for inspiration? Check out the following list of inspirational gratitude content from TEDBlog to get you in the spirit of giving thanks. These are also great videos and articles to share with your family today!

  1. Want to be happy? Be thankful.” This TED Talk from David Steindl-Rast guides you through strategies to implement more gratitude in your life such as his “stop, look and go” tool. 
  2. Jimmy Fallon’s Thank You Notes. If you’re looking for an easily-digestible burst of gratitude, check out this segment from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon where the host shares comedic spurts of thankfulness with the audience each week. 
  3. Tara Brach’s podcast. Tara Brach spent 10 years in an ashram, then attended a Buddhist Insight Meditation retreat before getting her Ph.D. in clinical psychology so her podcast is a great resource for learning more about the nitty gritty impact of gratitude on our psyche. 
  4.  Room to Breathe. This 2012 documentary explores the value of gratitude and mindfulness in education by following students at a San Francisco middle school. 
  5. It’s Easier Than You Think. This book by Jewish-Buddhist meditation teacher and psychotherapist Sylvia Boorstein demystifies the idea of mindfulness and demonstrates how mindfulness is a tool for everyone. She writes, “Being a meditator and developing equanimity do not mean becoming weird.”

Read the full list of gratitude content here.

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