"Expectations are the root of all evil." -- Wise Childhood Friend
After years of practice as a holistic doctor, I have learned one thing for sure: the holidays are difficult at one time or another for most every single one of us. It is so easy to get caught in the struggle! Stresses about finances can cause us to become tense and irritable. And beloved, irreplaceable faces that are no longer around the table can turn something as simple as a grocery list into an insurmountable task. Oh, wait, please, let’s not forget the political discussions. Oh no, the political discussions. Sigh. I’ll just leave this one right there and continue on…. Let’s be honest. When there are expectations set on the holidays, those expectations are seldom met. And when they are? Well, everyone else around has been driven so crazy by your controlling behavior that they probably won’t be back next year. Or so my, ummm “friend” told me when she did this one year during her first marriage. ;) To make matters even worse (or at least a bit annoying), it turns out that truly and honestly giving thanks for the good people and things in our life can actually help to combat the stress of our struggles. Yes, it is true. Those irritating people who look for reasons to be grateful really are on to something. (Note to self: make sure to say thanks to the bothersome people who have made my life better by being a positive influence.) Because being thankful during stressful times is not a natural practice for me and Thanksgiving has not started out as I expected this year, I did some research for some extra motivation to keep my head in the game so to say. Here are my 6 “Gratitude Secrets”, hope they help to inspire you this Thanksgiving also:
Gratitude Secret 1: Flex a Grateful Muscle
Showing gratitude seems to be most helpful for those with more negative thinking. This means that people who will benefit most may need us to be a bit more patient with them. Giving thanks doesn't come naturally to all of us, so exercise your compassion muscle and ease your expectations. Phshew, being a human is so hard sometimes! It seems easing up on others (and ourselves) is a pretty dang good mantra every day, in most every way. Remember, the point to all of this isn't to meet all of the perfectionistic expectations. The point is to create a life that is "happy, joyous, and free". Flexing gratitude muscles may just take some practice.
Gratitude Secret 2: Good Things Come to Those who Wait
A word of caution: sometimes it takes some time to see the benefits. A recent study found that people who had therapy along with gratitude journaling had better mental health than those who did therapy alone or with simple expressive journaling. This is fine though, because people who have "chronically elevated gratitude" also seem to have more patience! This last study found that gratitude may be even more important than just happiness in developing patience. So practice, you might just break expectations and feel better sooner.
Gratitude Secret 3: It's Way Cheaper Than Medications
People who express more gratitude have been found to have better heart function and lower inflammatory markers. It's true! This one was even from the mindfulness-master Dr. Deepak Chopra himself. This study also confirmed others' findings of better sleep, less fatigue, and less depressed mood in people who were better able to express gratitude.
Gratitude Secret 4: An Experiment of the "Find, Remind, and Bind" Theory
Giving gratitude strengthens the bond with the person you are appreciating. Some researchers call this the “Find, Remind, and Bind” Theory. Basically, they suggest that when we appreciate others, we signal to them that we are in a “communal relationship.” Almost like we love the people around us. Serious, try expressing some extra gratitude for your loved ones this Thanksgiving and see how it affects your interactions. Can't wait to hear these stories!
Gratitude Secret 5: Count blessings, not sheep
People who give more gratitude sleep better. In a study of nearly 400 adults, they found that higher levels of gratitude accurately predicted sleep quality and duration. The researchers' results were independent of personality traits like neuroticism. Author of The Happiness Track, Emma Seppala suggests, “Count blessings, not sheep.” Maybe someone could do a study comparing Ambien with a gratitude journal in terms of sleep quality versus side effects.... Gratitude Secret 6: If You're Gonna Do It, Do It Right
Not all forms of gratitude are helpful. Gratitude expert, Emmons, and his team outline that some forms of “harmful imposter” gratitude can hurt more than help. He sites the example of “harmful gratitude” such as a victim of abuse feeling gratitude to the abuser for the experience and staying in a harmful situation. So, like with any strength training, make sure to learn proper form before starting your practice!
Sure hope there is some inspiration to work your gratitude muscle extra hard this Thanksgiving. If so, please share your gratitude. It will probably make both of us feel really good.
Here's to an expectation-free zone this Thanksgiving.....
With one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you've got no hope but to piss on the present. -- Daddy
In loving memory of my Bubba, Ian Jensen (8/26/82-2/11/17).
My most favorite person in the world.
Oh, Bubs, you have taught me life's most difficult lessons.
Lesson #11: the holidays will never be the same.