By Kathleen Ririe
Ever since I was little, pie has been my most anticipated part of the Thanksgiving feast. Pie and Thanksgiving go hand-in-hand. In fact, it is documented that pumpkin pie became a holiday staple beginning at the Pilgrim’s second Thanksgiving in 1623. In 2022 alone, 50 million pumpkin pies were purchased for Thanksgiving. Clearly, we have nailed it on the pie production scale, but how are we doing on the gratitude production scale? A recent Gallup poll reported that since 2020 the percentage of Americans who report being “very satisfied” with their personal life has dropped from 65% in 2020 to only 50% in 2023 (Gallup, January 2-22, 2023). Why has satisfaction declined so much and how can we reverse that in our own lives?
Gratitude has been widely studied in recent years. Expressing gratitude is associated with a host of mental and physical benefits. Gratitude can decrease depression, anxiety, chronic pain and risk of disease. Higher gratitude is associated with higher self-esteem, optimism, positive emotions and the list goes on and on. (Unaneu, 2019) In addition, practicing gratitude can also lead to lasting positive physiologic changes in the brain (Kini, 2016). Read more about the positive effects of gratitude in this module on MyBestSelf101.
If gratitude has such impactful implications to our health and happiness, it seems it would be wise to enjoy its effects more than just once a year on Thanksgiving- the way that we often enjoy pumpkin pie. We can enjoy the positive benefits of gratitude year-round by experimenting with these 3 simple tactics to grow our thankfulness with a hypothetical slice of gratitude P.I.E.
And if you struggle with a mental health challenge like OCD, notice the difference these steps can make in your everyday life.
Pause to Appreciate your Physical Body-
Taking time to pause and appreciate our own physical body throughout the day can grow increased gratitude. Body appreciation is defined as “favorable opinions of the body regardless of its actual weight and size, or real or perceived imperfections”. (Piko, 2020) Body appreciation is positively associated with life-satisfaction, self-esteem, self-perceived health and optimism (Frisen, 2010). Body appreciation can also guard against negative psychological indicators such as guilt and shame (Razmus, 2017).
You might wonder- is body appreciation all about appearance? No! Although appreciating the appearance of your body could be involved, it is so much more than that! Serena Williams, widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time wrote in a 2017 Reddit essay, “It has been said I don’t belong in women’s sports — that I belong in men’s — because I look stronger than many other women do.” Williams then goes on to explain how, over time, she combatted this negativity by generating gratitude for her muscular body. She says, “Who says I’m too strong? This body has enabled me to be the greatest player that I can be.”
Try out some of the following experiences and see which helps you to feel a sense of greater appreciation for your own body:
- Write your own body a love letter describing what you love best about it, and what valued experiences it has enabled you to have.
- Think or journal about the prompt, “How has my body supported me today?”
- Internalize pleasurable experiences by noticing when something is pleasant to you (a sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, etc). For example, the comforting feeling of slipping into a warm sweater on a cold day.
- Try a “thank you body” experiment: for one full day be aware of all the small things your body is doing for yout and thank it for this (ie: thank you legs for getting me up this flight of stairs).
- Give mindfulness meditation a try with this smile-focused loving presence practice by mindfulness teacher Tara Brach, PhD .
Internalize small victories-
In his book Resilient, New York Times best seller and neuropsychologist Rick Hansen, PhD says that one way to grow gratitude within ourselves is to “look for opportunities to feel successful many times each day.” And according to one Harvard Business School study the size of the success does not impact the size of the positive feelings we experience. “When we think about progress, we often imagine how good it feels to achieve a long-term goal or experience a major breakthrough. These big wins are great—but they are relatively rare. The good news is that even small wins can boost inner work life tremendously. Many of the progress events our research participants reported represented only minor steps forward. Yet they often evoked over size positive reactions.” (Amabile, 2011)
I have experienced this principle at work in my own life. As a senior in high school and captain of the swim team, I experienced a major setback as I was diagnosed with swimmer’s shoulder (tendon inflammation around the rotator cuff) just after qualifying for the State Championship early in the season. I had a decision to make. Would I continue as team captain knowing full-well that my times would deteriorate? Or would I give in to my fear of failure and quit the team in an effort to protect my pride? My dad, who had been a 1978 All-American collegiate athlete, gave me some powerful advice. “Focus on the daily, small victories and you can feel like a winner all the time.”
Going against my teenage comfort-zone I took his advice to heart. I learned to quantify success by very small things like showing up to practice, encouraging a teammate, or just telling my coach thank you. As I continued focusing on my small successes, I started to notice them more often. At the end of the season I made the decision to go ahead and compete in the state race. I came in dead last by nearly a full pool length. In fact, I was so far behind that it elicited what I call an “under-dog standing ovation” from the crowd. I got out of the pool, sore and a little embarrassed, but I congratulated myself as I had all season for just showing up, finishing the race. Over the years this practice of internalizing the small victories has stayed with me and helped me stay optimistic. How small can the success be and still lead to a positive effect you ask? Research shows that even something as small as showing kindness or pausing to reflect on our blessings can increase our well-being (Lyubomirsky et al 2005). So no matter how small the success is, it has value in guiding us toward greater gratitude and meaning in our daily lives.
Excitement for Others-
“If you can be happy when others are happy, you can always be happy, since there is always someone somewhere who is happy” – the Dalai Lama
Some days it may feel like gratitude is out of reach. Our physical body may not be performing in the way we’d like it to. We may feel down and unable to see our own progress. On both good days and bad- we can choose to feel happiness for others, referred to as altruistic joy. There is a positive association between gratitude and altruism. The more gratitude we feel, the more interconnected we feel to others. The more interconnected we feel, the more inclined we are to celebrate and contribute to the well being of another person (Unanue 2019) . And the more we engage in altruistic behaviors the more gratitude we can feel. It is a beautiful positive think-feel-do loop.
In addition, practicing altruistic joy can act as a safeguard against jealousy and comparison. Introducing positive thoughts, even those directed at another person can broaden and build our own ability to move against the grain of our own mind’s negativity bias (Fredrickson 2004). Mindfulness teacher, Jack Kornfield, PhD teaches it this way: “Gratitude does not envy or compare. Gratitude receives in wonder the myriad offerings of rain and sunlight, the care that supports every single life.”
Who do you know who has fortune smiling on them? Look around you and find someone to be happy for today.
Let’s review the recipe for gratitude P.I.E.:
P- Pause to appreciate your Physical body
I- Internalize small successes
E- Experience Excitement for others
As you sit down to your Thanksgiving smorgasbord this year, remember that you can experience the sweet and life-changing effects of boosting your gratitude every day of the year (OCD or not) by serving yourself a slice of your very own gratitude P.I.E.
Amabile, T. & Kramer, S. (May 2011). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins
Fredrickson, B. (2004) The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society B: biological sciences 359, no. 1449: 1367-1378.
Frisén A., Holmqvist K. (2010). What characterizes early adolescents with a positive body image? A qualitative investigation of Swedish girls and boys. Body Image, 7(3), 205–212. 10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.04.001
The Gallup Organization (2023) . Washington, D.C.: Gallup Organization. [Web.] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://lccn.loc.gov/2002567426. January 2-22, 2023
Kini, P., Wong, J., McInnis, S., Gabana, N., & Brown, J. W. (2016). The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity. NeuroImage, 128, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.12.040
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: does happiness lead to success?. Psychological bulletin, 131, no.6: 803-855.
Piko, B. F., Obál, A., & Mellor, D. (2020). Body Appreciation in Light of Psychological, Health- and Weight-Related Variables Among Female Adolescents. Europe’s journal of psychology, 16(4), 676–687. https://doi.org/10.5964/ejop.v16i4.2183
Razmus M., Razmus W. (2017). Evaluating the psychometric properties of the Polish version of the Body Appreciation Scale-2. Body Image, 23, 45–49. 10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.07.004
Unanue, W., Gomez Mella, M. E., Cortez, D. A., Bravo, D., Araya-Véliz, C., Unanue, J., & Van Den Broeck, A. (2019). The Reciprocal Relationship Between Gratitude and Life Satisfaction: Evidence From Two Longitudinal Field Studies. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2480. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02480
See original article here: MyBestSelf 101