You thought it was supposed to be “Christmas in July,” right? You’ve heard it for years. Retailers promote buying in July with discounts, Christmas decorations and even Christmas music playing, trying to spark a mid-year surge of profits. I propose we change it to Thanksgiving in July. Not that I’m a marketing expert.
I’m really talking about taking time in the middle of summer to be grateful. In the middle of a stressful season filled with boatloads of griping and complaining about messed up vacation plans, required masks, lack of masks, quarantines, and other pandemic fallout, we should celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s the one day we try hard to complain less and think about all the things we are thankful for. You know, sit at a table full of hot steaming food, and watch it get cold as everyone around the circle gives their obligatory list of things, they are grateful for.
We all want a happy life. But did you know that a happy life doesn’t bring more gratitude? Actually, it’s the other way around. A life of gratitude brings a happy life. Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions. Gratefulness neutralizes envy, hostility, anxiety, worry and irritation. There is actually science to back it up.
In psychology, gratitude is the human way of acknowledging the good things of life. Psychologists have defined gratitude as “a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone” (Emmons & McCullough, 2004). Thanking others, thanking ourselves, or thanking God will make us feel happier and have a healing effect on us. Research data shows that positive emotions and thoughts bring enhanced moods, increased self-satisfaction, stronger immune systems, less body aches and pains, optimum blood pressure and cardiac functioning and better sleep-wake cycles. Ultimately, the above benefits of gratitude also extend to social benefits of better communication, more empathy, stronger interpersonal relationships, more likeability by our peers and better teamwork with others.
From a neuroscience perspective, when we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us “feel good.” They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. A “Counting Blessings vs Burdens” study conducted showed that keeping a gratitude journal reduced pain symptoms, improved sleep quality, and lowered stress compared to those who were keeping track of all the burdens they had to face each day.
So let me suggest four things for Thanksgiving in July:
APPRECIATE YOURSELF. It might be uncomfortable, but try standing in front of a mirror and speak out five good things to yourself. It can be about your past achievements, your present efforts, your talents or your virtues. Compliment yourself. I’m betting you will actually feel better… once you get past the awkwardness.
KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL. Write down all the little and big things in life that you are thankful for. There is power in words, so don’t overlook even the small things, no matter how unimportant they may seem. You might want to choose these four categories: 1) Compliments that I would like to give myself today; 2) People I am grateful for; 3) Current challenges and what I’m learning from them; and 4) Significant assets of my life at present.
GRATITUDE VISITS. We all have someone, whose unconditional support and help meant a lot to us. We feel as if we “owe” our success to them. I’m planning such a visit in a couple months in a northeastern state. I’ve told him before, but he is close to 80 now, and I want to tell him again. I know how wonderful it makes him feel and how it makes me feel. If you can’t make a visit, make a phone call, send a text, or write a thank you note.
DEVELOP GRATITUDE HABITS. We tend to have uphill hopes and dreams but downhill habits. If you aren’t intentional, you will most likely gravitate toward complaining and negativity. There are a lot of things that are negative about our world, especially right now. If we focus on them, we will spiral downward and only see plenty to gripe about. It will help to find a gratitude buddy for daily practice. It can be God, your spouse, a child, a friend at work. Set aside a few minutes every day to discuss the things you are thankful for. I try to do that with God on my daily 2-mile sunrise walk. Sharing thoughts of gratefulness with someone is a great way to strengthen this positive emotional habit in your life.
“Grateful Brain” author, Alex Korb, writes about how we can wire our brains toward negativity or we can re-wire our brains toward positivity by consciously and intentionally practicing gratitude. When we train our brains to tend toward positive emotions, we reduce anxiety and feelings of apprehension. Other studies confirm that gratitude practices are effective for treating phobias like death anxiety, PTSD, social phobia, etc. This is why I’m promoting Thanksgiving in July.
We need a whole lot more positivity in our community and world right now. Choosing gratitude fosters adaptive coping mechanisms. We are more resilient when we experience satisfaction, happiness and pleasure, thereby building inner strength to combat stress. Will you join me in choosing gratitude so we together can make our workplaces, our homes and community a better place to live? There are still a few days left in July. Let’s start a new tradition of Thanksgiving in July, and…every day after!
QUESTION: Which one of the above four suggestions do you find easiest? Hardest? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.