While Thanksgiving is, in part, about eating our body weight in turkey and mashed potatoes, it’s also about giving thanks. In mark of the occasion, we ask Dr Lilian Jans-Beken, an expert in the field of gratitude, to share with us five ways we can practice giving thanks — not just on 28 November, but each and every day.
Why is it important? ‘Gratitude is associated with improving one’s mental health because of the tendency to look for good in all kinds of situations, including adversity, which strengthens our resilience,’ explains Dr Jans-Beken. ‘Through the reciprocity of gratitude, we also become more connected to people around us, and science shows that social support is very important to attain and maintain overall well-being.’
So what are Dr Jans-Beken’s top five ways?
1. The gratitude bracelet
‘If you want to start with feeling grateful more often, you have to make sure that you’re reminded of your intention regularly. You can do this by wearing a bracelet with large beads or a pendant that gets in your way during the day. Every time you feel the bracelet, you can remind yourself to be grateful for something at that time.’
2. The gratitude journal
‘This is the best-known method. Write down three to five things every day that you were grateful for that day, even when your day didn’t go well. And don’t only write down what you’re grateful for but also why you’re grateful for it. You can do this at any time of the day, in the morning or at night, whenever suits your schedule best.’
3. The gratitude letter
‘Is there someone in your life that was or is important in what you’ve achieved? Don’t wait until their funeral to thank them — do it here and now! Write them a letter and let them know that you’re grateful for them, or, even better, read the letter out loud to them. This will guarantee a boost in happiness.’
4. The gratitude wall
‘This is a technique for families, friends or teams. Take a designated piece of wall in your house, the gym or the office, and make post-it notes and pens available. Have everyone write down their gratitudes, put them on the wall and leave them there. Everyone is allowed to keep adding notes and grow the gratitude wall in this way.’
5. Not ‘sorry’ but ‘thank you’
‘We do tend to say “sorry” quite a lot, but think about it for a minute; sorry is all about yourself and what you’ve done wrong. For example, we say “sorry I’m late” when we don’t arrive at the agreed time. Instead, try saying “thank you for waiting” and make it about the other person. This makes a shift in the atmosphere immediately because of the appreciation of the other.’
(This blog post was featured previously on The Style Sheet)
Dr. Lilian Jans-Beken is founder and ceo of the Thriving Human Science Center. She graduated in lifespan psychology, received a PhD in positive psychology, and she became an expert in gratitude and mental health. She is a scientific researcher who writes and talks about human thriving in general and gratitude specifically. In 2019, she wrote a book Een zoektocht naar dankbaarheid which is available through her personal website