Sometimes saying thank you is easy. Other times ... Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
It’s Thanksgiving Eve! Thanksgiving is easily one of my favorite holidays. I was searching for the right message to share today, and then I realized that my colleague Jess Stillman had already written it. In short, some kinds of gratitude are easy; some kinds take a bit more effort. Here’s Jess:
Thank outside the box
by Jess Stillman
Nearly everyone thinks about giving thanks at least a little this time of year. But some of us take gratitude to the next level.
For these folks, gratitude isn't reserved for special occasions like Thanksgiving. Instead, it becomes a daily habit through good times and bad. And science shows consistently counting your blessings in this way actually rewires your brain to make seeing the positive in life easier and more automatic. This, in turn, boosts happiness and even makes you more likely to be successful.
So how do you achieve this next level of advanced gratitude? UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center has ideas. Some of their tips are less than earth-shattering (we should all stop and smell the roses? you don't say) but a few are both genuinely unexpected and likely to level up your own gratitude game just in time for Thanksgiving.
1. Think about death regularly.
This might sound like a horrible way to improve your mental health, but the idea has deep roots.
Stoic philosophers advocated "memento mori," or regularly contemplating your own death. Many spiritual traditions, including Christianity and Buddhism, urge followers to keep their own mortality in mind. And Steve Jobs offered the same advice in his famed Stanford commencement speech .
Smith points out that research backs up this ancient intuition. Studies show that visualizing their own deaths makes people more grateful. Similarly, giving up something (in the case of one study, chocolate, not life) causes people to appreciate it more.
While the idea of reminding yourself of your own inevitable demise is grim, the darkness of the thought actually serves to illuminate all that's light and good in your life by contrast. To increase your gratitude, try reminding yourself regularly of all that you will one day lose.
2. Notice the pancakes.
Pancakes are yummy, but what do they have to do with gratitude? Smith uses the beloved breakfast item as an example of how the most grateful among us show their appreciation.
They're not just grateful for food. They're grateful for fresh golden pancakes drizzled with lovely, sweet, amber maple syrup.
The most grateful people, in other words, "are habitually specific." Not only does focusing on the exact details of what you're thankful for help you pay closer attention to the nice things in life, it also helps you offer others more convincing gratitude. Specificity, it "makes the expression of gratitude feel more authentic, for it reveals that the thanker was genuinely paying attention and isn't just going through the motions," Smith notes.
As previous research shows us, feeling thankful makes us feel good. Actually expressing that thanks to others makes us feel even more awesome.
3. “Thank outside the box."
Hmmm. Clever. What does Smith mean by this play on words? While it's easy enough to feel thankful for things like pancakes, true masters of gratitude manage to feel thankful even for some of life's far darker moments.
“Here's who the really tough-minded grateful person thanks: the boyfriend who dumped her, the homeless person who asked for change, the boss who laid him off,” Smith writes. Finding a reason to be thankful for our most difficult transitions “can help us turn disaster into a stepping stone.”
This process can't be forced or rushed (pushing people to express positive emotions they don't feel is 'toxic positivity'), but when you're able to look back on challenges and see how they turned you into the person you are today, you'll know you've processed your past struggles and emerged a truly functional adult human being.
(Programming note: We’ll be off tomorrow for Thanksgiving … and also on Friday, because otherwise I’d have to write a newsletter on Thanksgiving, and that would not be good for my family! See you on Monday. I hope everyone has a wonderful day. For our non-American readers, don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll eat enough turkey, stuffing, potatoes and cranberry for everyone.)
And in case I don’t say it enough: Thank you to all of you who read this newsletter, who comment, who email me with ideas, who tell your friends they should check it out, who help it grow, and of course—who support it! (Hint, hint.)
7 other things worth knowing today
Nearly 55 million Americans will travel during the long holiday weekend, according to AAA, up 1.5 percent from a year ago. Most travelers (49 million) will drive to their destinations, much like last year. (AAA)
Tonight is known in some circles as Drunksgiving, and a restaurant management software company called Upserve has the data to prove it. “In 2019 there was a 173% increase in shots sales on Thanksgiving Eve compared to the Wednesday prior.” Why? Because (see above) so many Americans return to the towns they grew up in for Thanksgiving, and crash their local watering holes for a hometown reunion. (Me, on Inc.com, a while back)
It’s become a bit of a tradition here on Understandably; each year I share this story about Stephen Colbert and gratitude. In short, Colbert suffered significant tragedy as a child (his father and brother were killed in a plane crash), and he discusses how he learned that if he wanted to be truly grateful for his life, he also had to be grateful also for the most difficult parts. (Understandably)
NASA expects not just to return to the moon, but to have human beings living there in a permanent or semi-permanent base, by the end of the 2020s. (BBC)
How big-time sportsbooks limit their biggest winners so that the house always wins. (WashPost)
Money-saving "hack" debunked. Women cannot actually get a free t-shirt at Disney World by showing up in a skimpy bikini that they know will violate the park's dress code. (Disney now makes guests buy a t-shirt in that case; doesn't just give them one, apparently after a significant number of people were doing it for the shirt. (NY Post)
Remember, friends don’t let friends who don’t want to be written out of the will drink too much at Thanksgiving dinner.