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Thanksgiving: What does it mean to be grateful?

Thanksgiving: What does it mean to be grateful?

Alumna and relationship coach Lisa Arango shares why it's important to take a moment to be grateful, even if things aren't perfect 

November 17, 2023 at 10:57am

Thanksgiving Day usually brings with it an atmosphere of exuberance, sumptuous food and great company. But it's also a time of quiet reflection — a time to celebrate by opening our eyes to the blessings we sometimes take for granted.  

There's no better time to take a moment and be thankful for "today". It's time to choose gratitude, says relationship coach Lisa Arango M.S. '96, M.S. '01, Ph.D. '03.

“Gratitude is a choice,” says the FIU psychology alumna. “[It] is noticing the good and recognizing where the good comes from, usually outside of ourselves. It doesn't mean there is nothing bad or negative going on around us, it means that we are intentionally looking for the good.”

Good circumstances and opportunities can include things like health, a job, a place to live, food, having our family and friends or a strong support system — the list goes on. These are often some of the blessings we attribute to God, the universe or a Greater Being, a Higher Power. This leads us to look beyond ourselves.  

Shifting our focus from ourselves to someone or something else is a key part of the gratitude process.

Acknowledging the good that other people have done for us also takes us out of ourselves and lets us appreciate others. The people who show their love and support for us could be parents, spouses, children, siblings, grandparents, friends, mentors, supervisors — any source of good and joy in our lives.

Recognizing that others are helping us activates the reward centers of our brains, says Arango. We become aware of people’s intentions. We appreciate it. The positive thoughts this unleashes helps create hope and optimism — and motivates us to connect.

“We feel supported by others and less isolated and alone in the world when we recognize that people are bringing good into our lives,” Arango explains.

Gratitude can also impact our overall wellness. 

“Research links the practice of gratitude to improved self-esteem and greater life-satisfaction,” Arango says. “It has also been found that gratitude is a protective factor when it comes to stress and depression.”

Simply put, Arango says: Thanksgiving points us toward a way of life, not just an idea for one day of the year. “Gratitude is a practice, a mindset and an approach,” Arango adds. “[It] has the potential to heal, energize, change our lives and our relationships.”

Ways to embrace gratitude

So, how do you practice the art of gratitude this year? Here are some tips from Arango.

1. Reflect.

“Take a moment to reflect on the good that this year has brought you,” she says. 

Did you achieve one of your goals? Did you learn from a past mistake? Did you rise above challenging situations? Or, have you had an amazing year filled with great moments to cherish?

2. Keep a gratitude journal. 

You can list things you are thankful for in a notebook, write out sticky-notes and post them around your desk or purchase an official gratitude journal, which often includes prompts to help you identify the positives in your life.  

3. Express your gratitude.

Any way that you can communicate appreciation for someone works, Arango says. You can visit, call, text, Zoom or send a thank you note.  

You can also try a fun, interactive activity during Thanksgiving Day.

Here’s how the activity works: Identify one to three adjectives that describe each person you’re celebrating with, and try to remember a moment when they exhibited this quality. For example, "I appreciate your thoughtfulness, like the time you made my favorite dinner without my asking.”

4. Find the good.

In the end, Arango says, it all comes down to two simple questions: What’s good in my life? And where does that good come from?

Answer that, and you’ll celebrate Thanksgiving every day.