It’s that’s time of year (Thanksgiving), when many of us take a moment to focus on what we are grateful for. For as long as I can remember, it has been a tradition in my family that my mother goes around the Thanksgiving table and asks each of us (grown-ups and kids) what we are grateful for. For a long time, this question elicited some eye rolling by me, even though I should have been past eye rolling. Why does focusing on what we grateful for often bring out the cynics in us and, more importantly, what can we do to banish this cynicism.

It’s the human condition to focus on the negative: the wet towels left on the floor, the less than kind response from a boss or spouse, and the many things that have been left undone in our busy lives. These negative thoughts can often dominate our thinking. However, we need to make a conscious effort to counter this negative bias and instead shine a light on what is working and good in our lives. We know that what we focus on is what we see and react to so we need to make a concerted effort not to get caught up in negative messages and feelings. As I have written about before, we have “mirror neurons,” the pathways in our brain that connect us to other people. When we are positive and grateful, this attitude will rub off on each other. Conversely, when we are negative and contentious with each other, that attitude and behavior will dominate. Both our positive and negative energy bounce off each other. So my question to you is, how do we see the best in ourselves and others so that we can create a positive, instead of a negative, ripple effect?

One suggestion, is to actively engage in gratitude exercises. Just like engaging in weight training exercises builds our muscles, engaging in gratitude exercises builds our ability to see the best in ourselves and others and leads to overall more positive feelings. I recently shared and participated in a gratitude activity ( with my students. In this activity, each of us (including me) picked a person from a hat and then shared with that individual what we were grateful for in them. Both sharing and receiving these words of kindness and well wishes was uplifting and brought a smile to all our faces, a smile that lasts even as I write about this experience. So, at our Thanksgiving tables this year, let’s all make a commitment to focus on what we are grateful for and to lead lives which focus on the positive and see the best in one another.

My warmest wishes to you and your family for a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. And, let’s all make a commitment to less eye rolling!
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