Let’s Carry the Gratitude of Thanksgiving Throughout the Year

It sometimes feels easier to feel gratitude in this harvest season. We are receiving the benefits of a beautiful summer and packing away the resources to keep us nourished in our nests over the winter. But as daylight diminishes, temperatures cool and the weather turns stormy, it can be easy to hunker down and just try to make it through until spring. I know I start to feel grumpy when the days are shorter. I feel deprived and stuck. I think part of that feeling comes from a disconnection from nature and the seasons. We are not meant to go full tilt ahead all year long but we seem to expect ourselves to do just that! In spring we plan and plant, in summer we nourish our gardens (literal or metaphorical) and in fall we harvest and store what we have gathered. Winter, for many of us, can seem like a void to be filled with distractions, waiting for life to begin again in the spring. We find it hard to accomplish everything on our to-do lists and we judge ourselves for being inefficient and unproductive. When we get into that state, it can seem like there is no way to get unstuck.

One thing that I have found helpful in getting unstuck is cultivating a gratitude practice. There are lots of ways to do this, but the easiest I have found is to just ask myself this question every morning: What are three things I am grateful for right now? It might be the snuggly cat and a cup of tea. And it might be a friend to talk to. For me, it is frequently gratitude for the harvest that is stored in my kitchen. The dried herbs, frozen soups or the indoor sprout garden continues to bring fresh energy and nourishment into my home.

Naming the things we are grateful for starts to shift our perception of life. We feel more present in this moment instead of dreading the next dark morning or storm. And being in the present is where we have the power to shift our perspective and change our experience of life.
Gratitude has many benefits at physical, mental and emotional levels. It has been shown to regulate our nervous systems. This is where we feel safe, resilient and capable to navigate each day. In a stressful world, gratitude can help us shift out of fight/flight (sympathetic nervous system). And this creates so many helpful changes in our physiology, thoughts and emotions. Gratitude has been shown in numerous research studies to reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm, lower cortisol and blood pressure, and help us feel more connected and engaged in life. This shift brings us into what is called the rest and digest or social engagement part of our nervous system (the ventral branch of the parasympathetic nervous system). And this is where the magic happens.

Each nervous system state carries a specific mix of brain chemicals, neurotransmitters and hormones. In stress/fight/flight, we have loads of cortisol and other stress chemicals bathing our cells. This is associated with feelings of fear and possibly anger, aggression and the urge to fight or flee. And this is a useful state if we need to flee a tiger. But often it becomes a chronic way of being. So we begin to see life as dangerous, unfriendly, unsafe, demanding, or overwhelming.  Those chemicals shape how we feel and what we think we are capable of in life. In this state, we feel some version of “I have to fight through everything.” Or “I will never succeed. I may as well run away or simply not try at all.”

There are lots of tools to help us intentionally shift out of this state, like tapping, meditation, mindfulness, but sometimes it is hard to even see the need for a shift if we are too deeply buried in stress. That’s why it is important to think ahead and develop daily habits that are automatically built into our days. These open the door for conscious shifts into a more pleasant and more empowered state.

My favourite doorway is tapping, as you might have guessed. I simply start each day tapping without words and that primes my nervous system to seek peace. But I also add gratitude. These practices shift our physiology and brain chemicals. Stress chemicals reduce and happiness chemicals, including dopamine and serotonin, start to flood our system. And when we have these chemicals bathing our cells, we feel happier, more motivated and more engaged in life. We also feel more able to solve problems that arise. It’s like putting on a new pair of glasses. The view is quite different. And so is our experience of life.

Join me next month to learn more about how we can take conscious and intentional steps that nourish and nurture.

Wishing you all the nourishment of gratitude this season!