written by Hannah Rau
Sometimes, if we’re honest, it can be difficult to be thankful.
Especially these days, it’s easy to find things that make us feel stressed, upset, or discontent. These feelings can often seem overwhelming. But as we approach Thanksgiving, how can we find rest from these negative feelings and embrace thankfulness, even if we can’t change our circumstances?
One of Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definitions of the word “thanks” is “kindly or grateful thoughts.” I like the idea of thankfulness as “kindly thoughts.” It reminds me that being thankful involves both the sense of expressing gratitude for something and the choice to focus on gracious, generous thoughts.
Here are three ways that practicing thankfulness can help us Relax. Refresh. Renew.
Thankfulness can help us let go of tensions and negative thoughts.
We all need rest, both physical and mental. But often the stressors in our lives—bad news, uncertainty, never-ending to-do lists—stand in the way of rest. In such hectic times, the practice of deliberately taking time to set those stressors aside can help us let go of tension and worries and find moments to relax.
Does this mean that when a tragic event or great disappointment happens, we should just ignore it and be thankful? We can’t pretend sorrow and hardship don’t exist, but thankfulness can offer some peace by reminding us of the things in our lives that are beautiful and good.
Pause for purposeful moments of thankfulness throughout the day. When you feel yourself slipping into negative thought patterns, try to let go of anger, tension, and worry and replace them with peace. This may take some will power. I often have to mentally prepare myself before offering a prayer of thanks by saying to myself “Right now I feel discontent/anger/sadness/etc. because of this circumstance, but I am choosing in this moment to focus on thankfulness.” Only by first letting go can we be refreshed by thankfulness.
Thankfulness can help us drink deeply of restoring peace and joy.
Once we set aside our cares, thankfulness can refresh the soul by filling us with joy in the things that we are grateful for. We cannot simply push aside negative thoughts; we must replace them with something better.
One way I like to practice filling my mind with thankfulness this time of year is by making notes of things I am grateful for or that fill me with joy—things like coffee with whipped cream, sunset over a lake, or books by my favorite authors. Try writing down some things you are thankful for as you think of them throughout the day. You may be surprised how quickly they accumulate. Get some markers and fill up a poster board or pumpkin. This can be a physical reminder of thankfulness.
Practicing thankfulness can help us replace negative thoughts with “kindly” ones—toward others, toward your circumstances, and toward yourself. Don’t forget that last one. You can be humbly thankful for and joyful in the things that make you you. You can’t be kind to others if you’re not kind to yourself first.
Thankfulness allows us to give back to others.
Finally, being filled with thankfulness can renew our spirits so that we can give back to those around us. This is the purpose of Relaxing and Refreshing ourselves: to enable us to show kindness and love to others. Often, when we feel gratitude for a gift we have received, it inspires us to give a gift back to the giver or to someone else. Having a thankful spirit empowers us to give back graciously to others. Giving back can be as simple as telling someone close to you that you’re thankful for something about them. How will you spread thankfulness this season?
No matter what is happening in your life right now, take a break from the busyness and use the practice of thankfulness to Relax. Refresh. Renew. Think kindly thoughts.
Hannah Rau is a Michigan-based writer and writing tutor. Her favorite self-care activities include reading classic literature, burning lovely-smelling candles, creating watercolor paintings with instant coffee, and taking rambling strolls outdoors.