In today’s episode of All Who Podcast, we ponder gratitude. Stick around to hear about Jacklyn’s qualms with Thanksgiving, and why we should make gratitude a daily practice.
Links mentioned in today’s episode:
- New York Times piece on the origins of Thanksgiving
- The Happiness Lab, with Dr. Laurie Santos (On Apple Podcasts this is Season 1 Ep. 12, on HappinessLab.FM it’s New Year 2020 Mini Season Episode 2.)
- Harvard Health Publishing on gratitude
- Berkeley research study
- Grateful journal
Hello and welcome to another episode of All Who Podcast. I’m Jacklyn, for those of you who are new here, but most of you are not new here, so let’s get into it.
As I’m sure you know by now next Thursday is Thanksgiving. And let me just put in my quick two cents about Thanksgiving. If you are going anywhere or seeing people… if you’re seeing people please be safe. Like there’s a whole pandemic going on. Don’t go to your friend’s bar crawl, and then go see your grandma, like please just be smart. *deep sigh* I digress.
Today, we are pondering gratitude! But with a festive little focus on Thanksgiving. So, I hate Thanksgiving. I don’t like the food. I have always had so many different places to be on Thanksgiving, that it’s like, ‘Where are we eating appetizers? And where are we eating dinner? And where are we eating dessert? And are we going to end up at the right grandma’s house to eat dessert, because I want that apple pie with the crumb topping.’ And don’t @ me talking about how apple pie with crumb topping is not pie. And also, Thanksgiving to me just reflects how whitewashed American history is. Like we would really rather pretend that everyone just sat down and was thankful and had a good time, when the actual history between Native Americans and colonizers is pretty awful and very complex. I will link a New York Times piece in the post that talks more about the actual origins of Thanksgiving if you’re interested in. But again, I digress.
So let’s talk about the difference between thankfulness and gratitude. So thankfulness –– as we are called upon to harness this upcoming week –– thankfulness is defined by our gal Merriam Webster as ‘being conscious of benefits received.’ Now Merriam Webster defines gratitude as ‘being grateful.’ So grateful is defined as ‘being appreciative of benefits received.’ So, as you can tell, they are quite similar. But thankfulness is the consciousness of good things happening, like, you know that they happened. Thankful, a good thing happened, and I’m thankful. Whereas gratitude is the appreciation of the good things that are happening. It’s like a deeper, more meaningful understanding. And to me, gratitude is about the big things, and the little things, and seeing the good in the bad. Gratitude, to me, is very much a daily practice.
Which brings us into today’s proposition, which is that we should be grateful every day, not just on Thanksgiving. And I’m certain that you are gagging because that was literally the corniest thing, but there’s science so just stick with me. And let’s back up really quick. I’m, I was very much inspired to do this episode because of a podcast called The Happiness Lab (season 1 episode 12) all about gratitude. So the episode kind of talks about willpower and giving into things that we know we shouldn’t, like spending money or skipping a workout, and just kind of really focusing on the ways that we sabotage our future selves for instant gratification. And at the beginning of the podcast I was like, ‘Well, how does gratitude have anything to do with willpower?’ And we aren’t really going to talk about willpower today. But what does gratitude have to do with achieving goals and being happier in the long term? So let’s talk a little bit about them.
In the podcast, there’s a psychology professor from Northeastern, David DeSteno, who conducted research and asked participants, ‘Would you rather have $10 now, or $30 in three weeks?’ and they honored whichever they chose. So if a participant said ‘I want $10 now,’ they gave them $10 now. If they said ‘I want $30 in three weeks,’ they sent them a check. Most people chose to get less money now than more money later. And that, at face value that does not make sense. If I can have $10 now or $30 in three weeks, like three weeks is not that long of a time. I can just wait for the $30. But still, people would rather go for instant gratification. And if I have $10 in my pocket now I can go get myself two coffees and have a great day.
But when people were made to feel grateful, and then asked if they would rather have $10 now or $30 in three weeks, they were more likely to value the future reward. They were more likely to choose the $30 in three weeks. DeSteno’s research also shows that gratitude increases productivity, it increases your investment in your work, it improves your physical health and your mental health when practiced in the long term. And I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘Well who the hell is this DeSteno guy anyway?’ But Harvard Health Publishing states that ‘gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.’ And if you aren’t a fan of Harvard, for whatever reason, a research study at Berkeley split students who were seeking mental health counseling into three different groups. One group wrote letters of gratitude. One group journaled about their negative emotions. And one group just did nothing, they were the control group. And the study found that those who wrote letters of gratitude reported significantly better mental health at their 4-week and 12-week check-ins after their writing exercise ended.
So let’s unpack this a little bit. As someone who has sought out counseling services, and as someone who has avoided seeking out counseling services, usually… not usually… it is often the case that you seek out mental health services when you are at your absolute lowest. You feel like you cannot cope on your own and you need to change something quickly because it’s not looking good. So, to know that out of a whole group of people who were all seeking mental health services, the one group who wrote letters of gratitude reported significantly better mental health 4 weeks and 12 weeks after they stopped writing the letters of gratitude, like that alone had me kind of stop and think like, ‘Whoa, this whole gratitude thing might actually be beneficial in the long term.’ But did I start being grateful? Absolutely not.
So, let’s get back, super quickly to my issue with Thanksgiving, too. Like if gratitude is so great, what’s the problem with Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is a one-day celebration of thankfulness. And that is a bunch of bullshit. So first of all, Thanksgiving is about being thankful, not grateful. It’s literally in the name. If Thanksgiving was about gratefulness, it would be called Greatsgiving, it is not, it is called Thanksgiving. It is a very short term thing. It’s a momentary reflection, not even a reflection, it’s just kind of a moment of sitting down with your family and saying that you’re thankful for something so that you can eat. And most of the time, all you’re really thankful for is that you get to go home soon and not have to do this again for another year.
So this brings us into how we perform gratitude. I have never been a grateful person, just to be brutally honest. I have always very much preferred to focus on the negative because it’s funny and people relate to it and it usually means that I can yell about something which is always a great day. And I’ve always just kind of been very entitled. I almost always get what I want. I’m very privileged and I’ve always had a really strong support system backing me up that allowed me to talk shit without putting in the work of appreciating it, I guess. So I started really focusing on gratitude after I started therapy. And I promise you that this whole podcast is not going to be ‘Jacklyn’s Therapy Journey,’ but I am feeling awfully enlightened lately, and you came to this podcast to listen to me. So, yeah, that’s, that’s where we’re gonna leave that.
But, performing gratitude comes in two parts: reflection and expression. So you know we are all about reflection here at All Who Ponder and Podcast, and this is really where gratitude started for me. It was about journaling and thinking about what I’m grateful for. So I actually am sitting next to my grateful journal, which is a product that I can link in the post as well. And when I first got the journal I sat down and there’s a bunch of little prompts in the beginning of like, who are the people that you’re thankful for and why? And what are the things you’re thankful for? And draw the things you’re thankful for and all of that nonsense. And when I started, I had… not a hard time, but I kind of struggled to really think about the things and the people in my life that I was grateful for. But then once I started, it became very emotional very quickly. Like I started writing down the people who were important to me and why they were important to me and I kind of started to realize that, like, they wouldn’t know it. I have so many great people in my life who inspire me, and who make me feel safe, and who really know who I am at my core without judgment. And writing down… even just like writing their name –– I’m getting emotional as we speak –– even just writing down their names in the journal and like writing down all of the things that they’ve done for me, it really made me realize that I have taken so many people for granted and so many experiences for granted. And it’s, it was kind of hard for me. I mean all of therapy is hard, it’s supposed to like dig up all of the garbage. But I think I just always thought of myself as someone who was grateful and never really realized just how ungrateful I really was.
And now that I’m past the beginning of the grateful journal, every day I come to it, and I write down three things that I’m grateful for. So it’s really, it’s personal, I keep it to myself, I don’t tell anyone the things that I write down every day. But when you think about all of the things that you’re grateful for, you become grateful for even more things. So like I, well like I just said, I sat down and I wrote that I’m grateful for my boyfriend. And that I’m grateful that I can see him or I cannot see him and I know that he’s still gonna feel the same about me. And then I started thinking about the time that I spent away from him when I studied abroad. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t think I ever actually sat down and processed the fact that I studied abroad and that is an amazing experience that I never even second guessed having the opportunity for.’ So that’s the first part of performing gratitude.
The second part is expressing gratitude and this is why I was so. … The expressing gratitude part is what really hit me when I was reflecting. Like, the people in my life don’t know how important they are to me, they don’t. And how could they? Like I’ve never said like, ‘Hey, I really appreciate you.’ And just like it’s never occurred to me to tell the people in my life that they’re important because I just kind of always assumed that they knew. But it is important, and you should tell people when you appreciate them. And when you do, people want you around more. When people see that you’re grateful for them, they’re drawn to you, and they’re drawn to you because they can tell that you’re invested. You’re invested in your life, and you’re invested in your relationship with them, and you’re just appreciative of the things and the people around you. I would never ever spend time building a relationship or a friendship or whatever, with someone if I didn’t feel like they appreciated my time, and I don’t know why anyone stuck around with me. And that’s another reason like it’s, it’s a whole thing. Like that’s another reason why I’m so grateful for the people in my life.
But there’s also this other part of expressing gratitude, and that’s telling yourself that you appreciate… you. We take ourselves for granted, a lot of the time, but we do so much for ourselves. I just –– and this is another one that makes me emotional this whole thing is just about me and my emotions, and you’re gonna listen because… I don’t know, I don’t know why. But anyway. So appreciation, or self-appreciation, rather, is it’s kind of weird. Like it’s weird to think about. For me, a lot of it comes with body positivity, that’s just something that is very close to me, it’s something that I experience a lot. So, just even sitting down and being like ‘I’m grateful for my body, and I’m grateful for my brain, and I’m grateful that I have legs that carry me places, and arms that hold me up during yoga even when it’s hard.’ And understanding that not everyone has the same privileges as you. But it’s not just about privileges. And it’s not just about your body. Being appreciative of yourself is like, I appreciate that I even started therapy. I am so grateful that I have put in the consistent efforts to make myself better and to make myself happier and that’s something that I’m grateful for. So, just expressing these things kind of. …
Gratitude is a never ending cycle. It’s a practice. And the more grateful we are, the more grateful we become. And the more we show other people gratitude, the more grateful, they will be and the more grateful they will become. And I think that’s the important part. I think that a lot of the time we get so wrapped up in just life. Like life happens, the people who are in our life have been in our lives, and they will always be there. And ‘I’ll always have my job’ or ‘I’ll always have this person’ or ‘I’ll always have those shoes that I really love, but never really think about how much I love them.’ But the reality is that nothing is forever. Like people don’t have to stick around if they don’t feel appreciated. And life changes, and you might not always have the job that provides you the security that you have, and you might not always have the house that you’re living in and you might not always be close to, physically close to the people around you. And I think that is also a big thing in my own gratitude journey is that I’m not close to those people anymore. Like I’m not close to anyone right now. I’m literally only physically close to Zach, which is wonderful. He’s a joy. But if I continued going on not expressing my gratitude for the people who are in my life, I could never expect them to stick around. And I could never expect someone to put in more effort than they feel that I’m putting in back. And now that I’m so far away, that is just it’s ever more evident, and it’s more difficult, and it’s more important. But it’s also so much easier. It’s so much easier for me now to understand all of the things that I took for granted in the past, and it is easier for me to be grateful for all of the things that come to me now. And whether that’s good or bad, like, bad things still happen, and gratitude for me is about trying to find the lesson in that. When bad things happen, there’s always something to learn. There’s something to come out the other side as a better, stronger, and more grateful person because of it.
So I think that if we all just took a few moments every day to think about what we’re grateful for–– whether we tell anybody or not –– we would all be happier, less entitled people. And shouldn’t that always be the goal? Like, if you’re not trying to be happier and less entitled then, I don’t know, maybe we’re just on different life paths. Maybe that’s not what everyone is searching for. But the more grateful you are, the happier you will be. And that is something that I can tell you from my anecdotal experience, and the science. So today I am going to leave you –– you guessed it –– with love and gratitude.
Talk to y’all soon.