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Putting the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving

A little gratitude goes a long, long way.

The holiday season is nearing once again, which means a busy social calendar, an uptick in your stress levels, a barrage of shopping prompts from every retailer on Earth…you get it. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way.

Let’s look at Thanksgiving—it’s supposed to be about “giving thanks.” That’s it! No hectic scheduling, no cooking conundrums, no family drama. It’s about gratitude. So, what if we really made gratitude the focus? Science says that’s a pretty good idea.

The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence defines gratitude as “a state of mind that arises when you affirm a good thing in your life that comes from outside yourself, or when you notice and relish little pleasures.” So, you scored a parking space at the frenzied grocery store? Be grateful. Remembered to defrost the turkey early this year? Fifteen pounds of grateful. Invited friends to dinner and they brought your favorite sides? The most grateful, and please pass the stuffing.

Trying to put sustained effort toward a gratitude focus makes sense beyond the holidays, too. Studies have shown that people who experience and express gratitude can expect to feel more positive emotions, sleep more soundly, express more compassion and have stronger immune systems than those who don’t. A focus on gratitude will pay you back positively—and maintaining that focus is made easier by adopting what’s called a “gratitude mindset.”

You can kick-start yours by keeping a gratitude journal. Start training yourself to notice even the smallest good things in your day, and jot them down in a notebook. It helps to be specific, because as you get better at noticing the good, you’ll realize how much of it there actually is, and details will help you remember each happy instance in the future. Remember not to beat yourself up if you skip a day, though—part of building a habit is being real about the effort it will take to sustain

You could also write a note or a letter to someone to whom you’re feeling grateful—yes, it’s old school, but who wouldn’t love to receive a message of thanks from a friend? Opening up to others in a positive way can change your relationships for the better.

This holiday season, ask yourself if you could use a shift in mindset, away from the stress and pressure and toward positivity. Then, ask if you might want to keep it going once the new year rolls around. And then, all you really need to do is say thanks.

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