Like most things we do, practice makes perfect. For those of you who keep journals or to-do lists, list three things that went well or the little joys of life you experienced today.
As we appear to be emerging from the pandemic, wrapping up the end of 2022 is a time we may be cautiously celebrating life returning to “normal.” The holidays can be a time for us to gather safely and appreciate family, friends, and colleagues in a way that hasn’t been done in several years. It is a time that we express gratitude and consciously experience its positive effects. Gratitude is a spontaneous emotion, and not one to take for granted, but it is also a behavior that can be practiced and improved upon with untold benefits.
Gratitude can be as simple as having someone hold a door open for you when your arms are filled with packages, children, or that cup of coffee you are trying hard not to spill. A “thank you” and smile to the individual who helped you navigate a treacherous path result in making them feel like they have made a difference for another human being and allow you to express gratitude, however small it may seem at the time.
Psychologists have found that expressing gratitude boosts your physical and mental health, and for some individuals, it is more than an emotion but a personality trait that helps navigate what comes their way. Gratitude has been found to be a significant contributor to wellness. Individuals who practice gratitude are happier and less likely to have negative thoughts or experience stress.
How do you cultivate gratitude as a part of your daily life? The lunar eclipse on November 8 resulted in a spectacular blood moon. Depending on where you lived, the optimum viewing time may have been as early as 5:00 am. That morning, I discovered a resident, Madeline Goosmann, MD, had taken a photo and posted it on Instagram, “Perks of Surgical Rounding Time.” It was a perfect example of finding joy in life, sharing it, and expressing gratitude for the opportunity.
The options could have been to complain about being up early and at the hospital to express gratitude for seeing a spectacle of nature with a clear sky. In full disclosure, I did not set my alarm to see the eclipse but enjoyed everyone’s description of it. That night, the sky was clear, and I enjoyed the full moon and the fall weather.
I recently went out to dinner with my family. The restaurant had a hostess who was delivering takeout orders, noting names of people who wanted to dine in, and clearing tables because they were short staffed. She did it all with a smile and efficiency that was laudable. When she asked how many individuals were in our group, I took the opportunity to recognize her amazing job of multitasking and how I appreciated her grace under pressure. She responded with a smile that said it all. The waiter who took our order was similarly under pressure with several other servers having “called out.” He was overworked and faced with nothing more difficult than to serve hungry people. From the very beginning, I thanked him for his smile and having to work under the difficult circumstances. I expressed my gratitude for him being so accommodating. When it was time for us to leave, he asked for our names and said that he would wait on our table anytime and that we had made his shift the best he could ever remember.
Like most things we do, practice makes perfect. For those of you who keep journals or to-do lists, list three things that went well or the little joys of life you experienced today. It can be seeing that full moon, the individual who held the door, or finding out that the problem with your car is still under warranty. Keep a box of thank you cards in your desk, or if you are not a “snail mail” person, send a thank you text or email to someone who made your day better. Recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate those who you are thankful for and help you in ways that make every day better, easier to navigate, or put a smile on your face.
After you have expressed your gratitude, the ripple effect occurs. The recipient will express appreciation, and it's “game on.” It’s a low-cost, high-value proposition, and you will find yourself enjoying the afterglow of making someone else’s day. No part of this exercise is meant to be insincere or fake. It is just recognizing that we should never take someone or something for granted. The pandemic should have taught us all that lesson. Enjoy your holidays with family, friends, and colleagues.
I appreciate you!