All The Little Things

Posted on November 22, 2016 by Dr. Leslie Pitner. Tagged:

Several years ago, a friend of mine from England came to visit during Thanksgiving. I went up to meet her in Chicago, and as we drove through the city, you could see that practically every store was closed for the holiday. Of course, they don’t have Thanksgiving in Great Britain, so she was a bit awestruck.

“This is amazing, everyone celebrating together on the same day.”

Until she said that, I hadn’t realized what a unique tradition we have in Thanksgiving. So many holidays come from religious traditions so not everyone celebrates them, but Thanksgiving is truly an American holiday. I never thought about how special it is that we as a nation all agree to stop and spend a whole day reflecting on what we are grateful for (while also eating a lot of food and watching football!).

Gratitude is something that I try to focus on in my life. There is so much research that shows how just the act of expressing gratitude can help us lead more meaningful lives. In one study, participants wrote letters to someone they were grateful to and delivered them in person. Researchers were amazed to find that not only did the person receiving the letter show positive improvement, those expressing the gratitude also showed an increase in their happiness.

Studies on gratitude and other positive habits are a part of positive psychology, a field I studied in residency and got a masters degree in in 2008. Psychology is a vast field, but I find positive psychology most interesting because it looks at what’s right with people — the virtues shared amongst all peoples, countries, and cultures. No matter how different we may be, we all value hope and awe, beauty, the ability to love and be loved, and other traits that make us human. Gratitude is a big part of the best human experience.

When you look at almost every major religion or philosophy, gratitude is one of the most important qualities they uphold. As crazy as life can seem, there’s always something to be grateful for. That can be hard to remember when the news is always full of negativity, but honestly, the bad news is what’s abnormal. Otherwise it wouldn’t be news.

One way to hold on to gratitude on a regular basis is by using a gratitude journal and writing down three things every day that you are grateful for. It can be anything, like …

“All the lights were green on my way to work.”

“I had the most amazing cookie.”

“There was a rainbow after that rain storm.”

We should remember even the little things. Life is made up of a lot of tiny moments we too often take for granted.

I really love Thanksgiving, because it’s a day to express gratitude for all things, large and small. It’s even better, because we have a whole country expressing gratitude together. Science says that’s one of the best things we can do.

Happy Thanksgiving!