November is a time of year where we often take time to be thankful for all the blessings in our lives. Thanksgiving happens to be my very favorite holiday. This year I was encouraged to see that many of the stores remained closed on Thanksgiving. We can take one day to focus on gratitude before rushing out to stores to buy Christmas gifts. Now that November is ending and the Christmas season is upon us, we can still practice gratitude. We should remember to be thankful all year long.
Embracing gratitude during difficult seasons
In 2018, I went through an extremely difficult season in life. I found myself too easily focusing on the problems and my mind bending toward pessimistic thoughts. My tough circumstances were not going away anytime soon, so I decided I had to do something to combat those negative thoughts.
I grabbed a notebook and decided that each morning while doing my devotions, I would list five things that I was thankful for. This practice really helped me to see the blessings amidst the struggles and to find joy in the little things. Fast forward to today, and I am just about to finish my second notebook of gratitude. I can look back through those notebooks and see in big and small ways God’s faithfulness during the darkest season of my life and the healing that came afterwards.
The science around being thankful
That day I grabbed a notebook, I had no idea that practicing gratitude actually impacts your brain chemistry. Being thankful increases serotonin levels and activates the brain stem to produce dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are the feel good chemicals your brain produces.
People who struggle with depression have a lack of these chemicals in their brains. There was a physiological reason that this small, daily practice was making an impact on my life.
Count your blessings — big or small
Some mornings I quickly wrote down five things. Other mornings I had to sit and ponder for a few minutes, but there were always at least five blessings to count. They were there, I just had to be mindful of them. Some were big, like my two children, the support of my parents and sister, and the wonderful man God brought into my life. Others were small, such as this morning I was thankful for a steam cleaner. My puppy is potty training, and black paint got on my white carpet yesterday while making homemade Christmas gifts with my daughter.
You see, being thankful reframes the way we look at a situation. I am not thrilled about the puppy potty training process or the paint on the carpet, but with thankfulness I can remember that I have a machine made to clean up those messes. My home has electricity to plug in the steam cleaner. My puppy will eventually get the hang of going potty outside every time (may it be soon, please!). Grandparents will be blessed by the homemade crafts from my daughter. She and I had quality time together crafting, and quality time is her love language. So many little nuggets of good that could have been overshadowed by stains on the carpet.
Practicing gratitude doesn’t stop at Thanksgiving
Let’s not loose sight of practicing gratitude just because November is coming to an end. Let’s count our blessings year round. Let’s teach our brains to see the slivers of joy and hope amidst the trials. This world is not heaven. There will be trials and challenges. If we wait to practice gratitude until life is perfect and our world is problem free, we will never begin. So let’s start today, and may the gratitude of our hearts bring more hope, joy and love into the world.