Thanksgiving is coming up in the USA, and all the trappings that go with it – holidays, feasting and celebrations. In Australia, Thanksgiving is more of an abstract concept – a holiday that we don’t know a great deal about, but one that we know holds great importance to our American members.
So what can we take from this holiday? One important concept that is relevant to us, is that Thanksgiving seems to encompass, really neatly, the idea of gratitude focusing our attention on what we have, and on giving thanks for what is going right.
The concept of gratitude is one that has been around for a long time, but it has gained traction more recently in a stressful and uncertain world, where our thinking patterns can be shaped and affected by constant stimulation and distractions. It is an active part of some psychological interventions, in particular those focusing on mindfulness and acceptance – the idea that by choosing what we focus on in our lives, we can also change our subjective experience – moving our attention from what is missing, to what is abundant and positive. Gratitude isn’t necessarily about denying all the bad things that are going on, but rather about choosing to attend to some of the good things as well.
Many of our Daybreak members describe gratitude as a powerful tool in their change process, with a conscious shift away from regular drinking opening up new patterns of thinking and relating to the world. Many people describe their thinking and behaviour becoming more intentional – just as they are choosing not to drink, or to moderate their drinking, they are also choosing how to respond to certain things in their lives. Both these things take effort and don’t necessarily come easily, but have some incredible consequences.
Sounds good, right? So, what might be a way that you can intentionally bring gratitude into your daily life to see if it is for you? One good opportunity is your next bad day (hopefully not too soon). We all have bad days, but what you might not have realised before is that a bad day is also an opportunity to practise gratitude. So, next time you’ve missed the bus, or are annoyed at the person eating loudly near your desk, or are sitting at home feeling exhausted and drained, see if it is possible for you to shift your thinking patterns away from all the things that are wrong with this situation, to all the things that are right.
We missed our bus, but perhaps this is good that it happened today, rather than tomorrow when we have a big presentation. We are exhausted and drained at home, but that is because we worked really hard today and finished off a lot of challenging work. Our noisy eating colleague is annoying, but at the same time we can remember a time when we might have been desperate to have the job we do now, and all the things that go along with it. The human brain is unfortunately wired to look out for the negative, and we are much more susceptible to this when we are tired, lonely or stressed – focusing on the good in a situation actually takes effort and time. The benefits, however, are substantial, and can result in a real shift in how we respond to the world around us – seeing the incredible and special parts of it, even if we are going through challenging times.
So even if Thanksgiving is not something that Australians necessarily do, practising gratitude may be a valuable new tradition that has a powerful effect on how we think and feel. See if you can start to bring in some gratitude to your daily routine – whether it is a gratitude list before bed, or even reframing a bad day with gratitude and acceptance, it is likely that you will notice a shift in your perception of the world, perhaps when things are feeling overwhelming or dark, allowing yourself to sit in the light for the moment and consider what might be something good about this situation.