How to be Truly Thankful at Thanksgiving and Throughout the Year

Being thankful at Thanksgiving seems like a no-brainer; that is, after all, what the holiday is all about. 

If you're like many people, however, there's a good chance that you're just going through the motions of gratitude while secretly feeling guilty that you just can't seem to muster up any sincere emotion on the matter. 

While there may be a variety of reasons why someone may struggle with true thanksgiving, the good news is that you can take some proactive steps to overcoming the struggle. Here's how:

Be Honest with Yourself

You know that you should be thankful that you have A, B, or C, but somehow you just aren't overcome with gratitude about it. In fact, you often find yourself complaining in one way or another about the very thing that should inspire gratitude. Rather than rationalize excuses or try to make yourself believe you feel something that you don't, own up to the truth. You're not going to get any better if you lie to yourself.

Once you've admitted to yourself that your thankful muscle is weak, you can work on stretching and flexing it. It's not the end of the world that you aren't as grateful as you should be, as long as you're aware of the fact and are taking steps to correct it.

Practice Gratitude Actively

Make a list of things that you currently have that you would not enjoy living without. Start with the big, obvious things such as a place to live and food in the fridge. Then work your way down to the smaller things we can often take for granted. This might include your toothbrush, deodorant, or even your silverware. Make it a point to find something new each day to add to your list, and contemplate what it would be like not to have that item. You might even try doing without one or more of these things for a while if you're having a hard time appreciating them.

Once you've gotten the material things down, start working on the more intangible or irreplaceable items. The big ones might include your family, friends, and pets. Have you considered the air you breathe every day? What if you lost your sense of smell or taste? Try to imagine losing one or more of these things, and really spend some time thinking about what it would be like. Now think about how glad you are that you do have them, even in all of their imperfection. This is where becoming truly thankful begins.

Catch Yourself Complaining

Pay purposeful attention to your thoughts and words. Did you get caught at a traffic light when you were in a hurry? When you catch yourself complaining about the light, use it as an opportunity to consider what traffic would be like if that light was not there. Yes, it may be a bit inconvenient at the moment, but imagine the chaos that would ensue should it suddenly cease to exist. You may not feel overjoyed about having to stop, but you will probably feel a tad more grateful knowing that same light is a guarantee that you will get to continue onward in just a couple of minutes--and continue in safety.

Use this principle whenever you find yourself unsatisfied with a situation. Complaint is the mortal enemy of gratitude; if you can recognize it when it arises, then you can deal with it before it gets out of hand. You don't have to convince yourself to be euphoric in every situation no matter what. You just have to make a deliberate effort to choose to see the positive that's there no matter what.

Be Conscious and Present

How many times have you said "thank you" out of habit without actually being thankful? The answer is far too often, most likely. Whenever those words or any variation of them come from your mouth, pause to think why.

Do you really appreciate that person holding the door for you? Are you glad that he or she did? Let yourself feel it, and smile with sincerity as you express your thanks. Mindlessness can rob you of many opportunities to experience true gratitude in what may seem like insignificant situations.

Serve Others

Giving to or serving others brings with it a strange anomaly of causing you to feel more fulfilled and grateful. Something about giving of your own time and resources brings great joy. Perhaps it is knowing that you've helped a fellow human being who was less fortunate or that you've done something meaningful that would otherwise never been done. It could be that the more you do for others, the more you notice what others do for you.

Whatever the reason is for this phenomenon, the fact remains that serving others is one of the best ways to experience true gratitude personally. Find a cause that's meaningful to you and embrace it. From churches and shelters to nursing homes and hospitals, opportunities are everywhere to give of yourself to others.

Above all, be gracious with yourself. You aren't going to go from self-focused to saint of gratitude overnight. If you follow these steps, however, you will find yourself becoming more truly thankful this Thanksgiving season, and growing in gratitude all through the coming year. Don't stop what you have learned and practiced once November's come and gone--blessings aren't seasonal, after all, and neither is thankfulness.

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