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5 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude This Thanksgiving (Even If You Don't Feel Thankful)

Elisa Medhus, M.D.
Internal Medicine Physician By Elisa Medhus, M.D.
Internal Medicine Physician
Elisa Medhus, MD, is a physician and mother of five who has practiced internal medicine for over thirty years. She is the author of three award-winning parenting books.

Everyone tries to be more grateful during the time leading up to Thanksgiving, despite how easy it can be to slip into bitterness and cynicism. Understanding the nature of gratitude can keep us from resorting to such fear and hatred.

Know that everything is energy — even gratitude itself. Gratitude is an emotional energy with its own unique, high-vibrational frequency.

Gratitude is the recognition of the connections we share with everything: ourselves, other people, other living creatures, Mother Earth, and even material objects.

Acknowledging these bonds makes us feel like a part of a collective whole, and transfers positive energy all around. Thought creates reality, and gratitude is a thought that will help its intended target grow and feel loved. Your gratitude has the same effect whether expressed silently or aloud. Sometimes words and actions, although wonderful, are unnecessary.

Here are five tips to help you and your family maintain a strong sense of gratitude this Thanksgiving:

1. Write gratitude notes.

Some of us have trouble expressing ourselves, especially on Thanksgiving when it's so easy to just eat monstrous amounts of food and slip into a turkey-induced coma in front of the TV. Keep the gratitude flowing by asking those you're celebrating with to fill a few anonymous notes with statements of what they're grateful for. Place them in a jar, then have everyone pick one out and read it aloud.

Your gratitude has the same effect whether expressed silently or aloud.


2. Don't take anything for granted.

Treat every person, living creature, possession and situation in your life as if she, he or it won’t be present tomorrow. Maybe try and imagine that the person you're interacting with is going away on a year-long trip somewhere, and that you won’t have any means of communicating with them during that time. With this mindset, you'll make the moments with him or her far more meaningful.

3. Practice vulnerability.

Spend the day with an open heart. Share more, and be comfortable with vulnerability. When you are freer with your heart, others learn more about you and you can learn more about yourself. Achieving this state of vulnerability requires complete emotional honesty. It takes reflecting on your feelings, identifying them, understanding them and honoring them. Once you’re able to open your heart, you’ll find yourself acting out of love, not obligation.

4. Acknowledge loss.

If this past year has been an especially difficult one for you, acknowledge that. For those of you who have lost a loved one, it might seem impossible to feel grateful for anything this holiday. If you've recently suffered a tragedy, write a note expressing your gratitude before Thanksgiving Day that someone else can read aloud for you at the table. Your heart might be be too heavy to read it yourself, especially if you're still trying to understand what the new shape of your family looks like.

Know that your loved one isn’t really lost. They’ve simply shed their physical body and transitioned into another dimension, and they’ll more than likely be there sitting in that “empty” chair. They’re still here and real, but in a different way.

It’s okay to feel and express sadness, but don’t unpack your bags and stay there. Your loved one wants you to be happy, and he or she doesn’t want you to feel guilty for celebrating that special day.

As a physician raised by atheists, my journey from skepticism to belief concerning life after death was a rocky one. But thanks to several experiences that defy explanation, I know that we are eternal beings and my son, Erik, who took his life at the age of 20, still lives on. I have no doubt that he will be sitting at his place at our Thanksgiving table, celebrating the holiday with us. Your loved one will be, too.

If this past year has been an especially difficult one for you, acknowledge that.


5. Keep the practice going.

Gratitude should not just be reserved for holidays — be sure to express it every day in some way. For example, you can write an anonymous letter of gratitude to someone: a teacher, a friend, a fire fighter. Or you can start keeping a gratitude journal to constantly remind yourself of all you have to be thankful for.

Gratitude provides us with infinate connections, and helps us forge a deeper bond with the world around us. May you be filled with gratitude this Thanksgiving, and each and every day after.

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