Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And soon, many families will be participating in annual rituals of gratitude: going around the table listening to each person announce what he or she is grateful for, writing down objects of gratitude on slips of paper to be read aloud later, telling friends and family members how important they are, etc. And that’s great! But before you start full-tilt preparations for the rest of the holiday season, Todd Patkin has a question for you: Do you leave gratitude behind at Thanksgiving, or do you engage in the year-round practice of thanks-living?
“It seems to me that most of us are in the habit of focusing our gratitude on grand statements made only when there’s a turkey on the table,” says Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95). “You know what I mean: ‘I’m thankful for my family, my friends, the fact that I live in America, my health, etc.’”
Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, Patkin is adamant that he’s all for acknowledging and appreciating your biggest blessings. It’s just that when we don’t take time to value the big and small things, all year round, we’re missing out on an untapped source of potential happiness.
Patkin, who experienced a complete nervous breakdown at age thirty-six, is something of a self-made expert on happiness. He calls his breakdown his breakthrough, because it prompted him to embark on an ongoing “happiness journey” that has spanned the last decade. Patkin’s goal is to learn about the true nature of happiness: what it is, what causes it, and how we can invite more of it into our lives.
“Here’s what I know for sure: If you’re waiting for the stars to align, for the path to be totally smooth, and for happiness to come to you, you’ll be waiting forever,” he shares. “Unfortunately, I think that’s the view of happiness that many Americans have, and collectively, it’s making us a lot more miserable than we have to be. Instead, happiness is the culmination of all the little actions, choices, and habits that fill your day. And the choice to be grateful is a very, very important part of that equation.”
Read on to hear Patkin’s thoughts on the importance of gratitude and how you can hardwire thanks-living into your whole year:
First, realize why gratitude is a key ingredient of happiness. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” might be a clichéd concept, but people tell you to develop one for a reason. Consistent thankfulness makes you happier and healthier. According to USA Today, so-called thanks-living can lower your blood pressure, help weight loss, alleviate stress, lower your risk for depression, and more.
“Personally, I’ve noticed a huge difference in my life after I decided to make gratitude a bigger part of it,” Patkin shares. “Here’s a short list of the benefits I’ve noticed: Being thankful for your blessings helps you to be present now, instead of rehashing the past or worrying about the future. Choosing to focus on positive things improves your mental, emotional, and physical health. Acknowledging your many blessings with thanks will help you to attract fulfilling relationships. And the humility that comes from knowing you owe so much to so many others will, in turn, spur you to give back more often to those less fortunate than yourself.”
Look at your life through gratitude glasses. It’s easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of everyday life: bills to pay, deadlines to meet, carpools to drive, and homework to be done. It’s also easy to focus on the negative aspects of those everyday moments: The chores seem endless. The bills keep piling up. Your kids misbehave, the dog makes a mess, and you can never, ever seem to find time to do anything for yourself.
“Believe it or not, there are actually plenty of things that we can (and should) be grateful for in these mundane moments,” Patkin points out. “You just have to look at those things through the lens of gratitude. After all, you have a house to clean, when others may have none. You have bills to pay for things that keep you comfortable, like your heat and electricity. You have children who are healthy and full of life and a fun-loving pet that puts a smile on everyone’s face. And so on. When you’re able to shift your perspective in this way, you’ll feel less overwhelmed and have a healthier, more positive outlook.”
Realize that gratitude (and happiness!) are often about the little things. To make habitual gratitude a part of your everyday life, start by making a list each day. Carry a small notepad and pen with you and jot down the small things that you feel grateful for as they occur to you (or type them into a list on your smartphone!). The act of physically recording them will help you to stop and truly think about each moment of gratitude. As this becomes a habit, you’ll find that you no longer need an actual list to remind you to be grateful—and chances are, you’ll also be surprised by how many “little things” you notice! Turns out, your life is a lot better than you once thought it was.
Here, Patkin shares just a few of the “little things” for which he has been grateful recently:
- A hot cup of coffee
- Clean sheets that just came out of the dryer on my bed
- A phone call with an old friend
- The smell of my favorite dinner cooking in the kitchen
- A great talk with my son
“Remember, your list doesn’t have to be profound,” he says. “Sure, at times, it may be, depending on life and your circumstances. But that’s the beauty of this whole thing. Life isn’t always profound. It ebbs and flows. And when we can learn to be grateful for the things we have each day, no matter what circumstances life gives us at that particular moment, we will discover one of the keys to living a much happier life.”
“This Thanksgiving I challenge you to make a promise to yourself and to your family for the year ahead: to be grateful on this day, certainly, and during all the ones that follow,” Patkin concludes. “When you make an effort to feel thanks in the everyday—and on a regular basis—you’ll experience an amazing shift in perspective. You’ll notice the negatives less, and the positives more. And most of all, you’ll be a happier person.
“Lastly, remember that your kids develop their mindsets, attitudes, and habits based on yours,” he adds. “So realize that engaging in thanks-living isn’t just something that you’re doing for yourself—it’s a gift you’re giving to your children, and to their children after them.”
About the Author:
Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In, grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.
About the Book:
Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.findinghappinessthebook.