As published in the Washington Observer-Reporter.
My love and excitement for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, cranberry sauce and my Mom's pumpkin pie catapult me to levels of joy that few other things can inspire.
It's not just "things" that make me happy; It's the feelings the accompany the things.
Even when the parade is so-so, it's realization that, in that moment, everything is my definition of perfect. My husband and father look like cookie cutters of one another with sections of the day's newspaper identically in front of their faces. The house air is heavy with the smell of onions, green peppers, celery and butter sweating in my mother's frying pan. And, there's the universal understanding that the day's focus is to enjoy simple, almost childlike details like how high the Macy's balloons got to fly that year.
Thanksgiving, without even trying, teaches me important lessons about being thankful.
If you listen to positive psychology experts--yes, they exist--there are ways to extend this feeling beyond a few days in November.
Gratitude starts with the will to find it.
It is relatively few days of our lives that we're granted promotions, get engaged or win a contest, but, luckily, these bigger events hardly encompass all that we have to appreciate.
Mindfulness or presence in the moment is required for us to dig a little deeper. When we are in a constant state of waiting for the end of the the work day, waiting to go to sleep or waiting for the concert this weekend, we are ignoring huge portions of our lives and stacks of blessings within them. So, pay attention.
You woke up this morning, right? That's a start. Maybe you ate exactly what you wanted for breakfast. That's awesome!
A great next step, according to reams of research, is to write these little victories down. The practice can be called journaling, gratitude journaling or that-file-I-have-on-my-computer-where-I-write-stuff-I-like. You can even buy beautiful, leather-bound journals that have the word gratitude embossed on the front in gold leaf. Whatever floats your happy little boat.
Here's the point: In a study conducted by Dr. Robert Emmons (perhaps the world's leader in gratitude psychology) and Dr. Michael MucCullough, participants who wrote down a few things for which they were grateful each day for ten weeks, were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. And, that's just one example.
Maybe journaling won't work for you, but, luckily, it isn't the only option.
Prayer, meditation and even mentally thanking someone (which is very much akin to the first two, if you ask this girl) can all work to harness our positivity.
One overriding happiness-helper, however, is to remain engaged with your thankful thoughts.
Writing, "I am thankful for my toaster oven," isn't valuable unless you are truly in love with that toaster oven.
Another way to think of it is this: Choose thoughts that resonate with you. Check in occasionally and ask yourself, "Do I believe what I'm writing?"
The road may be bumpy at first. Concentrating on grateful thoughts may feel awkward or unnatural, but fake it 'til you make it.
Positivity snowballs: The more you have the more you want. Just like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day.