By Dolores Sauca Lorusso

Practicing gratitude is a great way to infuse positivity, hope and perspective into the Thanksgiving holiday and our lives. In many ways, as a society, we have lost touch with the true meaning of gratitude. This is not surprising because our hectic lives do not afford time for the reflection and stillness necessary to truly count our blessings.

In a world that often emphasizes what we lack, the practice of gratitude stands as an uplifting contrast. When we focus on what we have rather than what we want it shifts our outlook, making us more resilient in the face of adversity.

Thanksgiving, a time for food, family, friends, and gratitude, is the perfect occasion to take a walk down memory lane and talk about favorite moments and experiences from throughout the year. Studies have shown it is healthy to spend quality time reflecting on the year’s blessings alongside family and friends.

As it turns out, the effects of gratitude can be important for our overall well-being for several reasons. Expressing your gratitude to others builds connections and improves relationships while also improving your physical and mental well-being.

Research has shown that practicing gratitude can reduce stress, depression, anxiety, improve sleep quality, self-esteem, overall happiness, and can decrease blood pressure. One study found that participants who wrote gratitude letters regularly displayed significantly better mental health than those who didn’t. In fact, brain scans suggested that gratitude might even have the power to rewire our brains for the better.

Gratitude is a positive emotion that involves acknowledging and appreciating the good things in our lives. When we express gratitude, our brains release dopamine and serotonin, two important neurotransmitters that regulate our moods and emotions. These chemicals can help us feel happier, more content, and less stressed.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that participants who kept a gratitude journal for three weeks reported lower stress levels and were more optimistic about the future.

November is a natural time to begin a “30 Days of Thanks Challenge.” By focusing on the positive aspects of your life, you can train your brain to look for the good in every situation.

The goal of the challenge is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude by documenting three to five big or small things you are grateful for each day through a journal, social media, or just telling a family member or friend. You can also begin a month-long gratitude jar so each day of the month family members can drop in something they are thankful for.

A gratitude tree is a unique twist on the gratitude jar that may be more fun for younger family members. Have them jot down people or things they are thankful for on paper leaves made of colorful construction paper and clip them to branches in a vase. Whether it’s during the meal or while relaxing later in the day, go around the room and read them aloud.

Crafts are a great Thanksgiving activity to pass the time while waiting for food to be ready and they keep children entertained. Buy some simple plastic ball ornaments and acrylic markers for people to write something they are grateful for that year, along with the date.

Get a special notebook reserved just for Thanksgiving. Pass it around the table during the big meal and ask each person to write something they are grateful for or a happy memory they have of Thanksgiving. Little ones can draw a picture. Be sure to have each person write their name and age. Over the years it will become a treasured memory book.

Gratitude candles illuminate the room to demonstrate how gratefulness is most beautiful when it is shared. Turn down the lights and give a small candle to each person at the table. Start by saying something you are thankful for while you light your candle. The person next to you then shares what they are grateful for and lights their candle from yours. Eventually, the room is lit up with jovial thoughts and memories. The candles can then be placed in the table centerpiece as part of the decor. Electric candles can be used for young children.

A plain tablecloth can be transformed into a family heirloom that will be cherished for generations. Place fabric markers around the Thanksgiving table and encourage guests to sign the tablecloth and be sure to include the date; they can also write a short blessing or message. Each Thanksgiving, more can be added to the tablecloth and the notes from the previous years can be read.

A powerful way to remember your own blessings is to help someone else in need. Not everyone has time to volunteer at a food bank, however, many grocery stores, community centers, churches, and other public places offer an option to buy a Thanksgiving meal kit for a family in need. Or you can make a neighbor feel loved by making them a plate of Thanksgiving dinner food and delivering it to them. To add a special touch, include a handwritten Thanksgiving Blessing.

At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with any of these Thanksgiving traditions to instill gratitude. Each one will help you make new memories with your loved ones you will appreciate for years to come.

Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to remind us of this important and beneficial practice of experiencing and expressing gratitude so that we can be inspired to continue this behavior all year long. To bring the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday to every day of the year create a list of gratitude intentions for the coming year.