November is a month when gratitude takes its place in the spotlight of American culture. Yet, with the challenges our country has faced this year, a popular notion as we approach the final weeks of 2020 is “let’s just get this year over with.”
While she understands the sentiment, Peoria physical therapist Cindy Rankin would like to remind people that it’s possible to be thankful for, and even embrace, the challenges we experience in life.
“When we consider what we have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season, let’s not overlook the ways challenges can have a positive effect on our lives,” said Rankin, Regional Director of Professional Therapy Services in 12 locations in Southern and Central Illinois.
“Yes, it’s been a tough year in so many ways, but being able to express gratitude in the face of all these challenges isn’t just good for the soul. Research shows it’s also good for overall health.”
One study from 2012, for example, reported that grateful people generally experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling “healthier” than other groups. This is no surprise when you consider that, based on various research, grateful people exercise more, get better sleep, and follow up on regular health check-ups.
From a psychological perspective, higher levels of gratitude increase happiness, reduce depression and aggression, and cultivate resilience in life.
“We could all use a little more positivity, whether we’re talking about 2020 or any other year,” Rankin said. “The key, even in the face of big challenges, is to actively identify and express gratitude in our day-to-day lives.”
How? Rankin offers the following advice:
Embrace Your Challenges
This is oftentimes easier said than done, especially during the fallout of a long-term global pandemic. Keep in mind, though, that when approached constructively, challenges often bring out our best selves. They make us stronger and more focused, confident and capable.
Celebrate Minor Victories
You’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” This simply means that victories regularly come in increments, and that small improvements are often worth celebrating. Keep this in mind as you work to achieve your goals (regardless of size) and as we continually strive for post-COVID normalcy.
Acknowledge & Express Gratitude
Knowing you have a lot to be thankful for isn’t the same as regularly considering, jotting down and expressing your positive thoughts. Being grateful should be an active process.
By forcing yourself to consider specific things you’re grateful for every day, you’ll train your mind to more naturally think in these terms. Expressing gratitude in overt (i.e., writing a thank-you letter) and creative ways can give this positivity an even bigger boost.
Surround Yourself with Positivity
The levels of positivity in the company you keep can directly affect your ability to be feel gratitude. Being around positive people and those you love and respect can feel energizing and lead to greater levels of optimism in your life.
As a way of giving back to others in your community, volunteering – especially during this era of the coronavirus and economic downturn – can make you feel more grateful about your own life. Studies have shown that helping others through volunteering can also increase our personal level of well-being.