For about 4,000 years, people around the world have celebrated the arrival of the new year. Nowadays, in much of the world, this transition occurs on the first of January, the month named in honor of the Roman god Janus, who had two faces: one looking back, the other looking forward.
The New Year holiday is a threshold that marks the passing of time, encouraging both reflection on the past — What kind of impact did I make? Did I stay true to myself? Did I learn something? What were my mistakes? — and a vision for the future. We feel the possibilities within us as we continue to grow and become who we wish to be.
Yet over the last few years, some of the focus has shifted away from resolutions. Perhaps, collectively, we’ve realized they are rooted in a mindset of lack or dissatisfaction, rather than appreciation, celebration, and acceptance of lessons learned and all that was accomplished.
This latter perspective is one of gratitude — a powerful human emotion that’s a thankful recognition of all we have and receive.
Long held by many theologians and philosophers as a central element of human virtue, gratitude is now heralded by many experts as a verifiable component of a healthy state of mind — and a healthy way of life.
Physically, gratitude affects our blood pressure, kidney function, and brain chemistry. Emotionally, people who practice gratitude report higher levels of vitality and optimism and lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety; they tend to feel better about their lives and make meaningful progress toward their goals. Socially, it can help us build good relationships.
Gratitude is now heralded by many experts as a verifiable component of a healthy state of mind — and a healthy way of life.
Gratitude itself is something to be thankful for. The more we practice it, the better we feel, which can start to show up in our actions and relationships.
People around us feel uplifted and, consequently, thankful, too. This can, in turn, inspire their generosity, creating a ripple effect of good energy through the world.
It’s no wonder that gratitude — along with integrity, perseverance, kindness, and forgiveness — is a virtue that helps us thrive.
The New Year is by no means a one-and-done on gratitude, but it is a great time to begin to grow a practice. Here are a few of the simplest things you can do.
- Focus on your blessings. Acknowledge what is good in your life. Notice the things you’re grateful for and focus less on what you lack.
- Write them down. People who write about what they’re grateful for report feeling healthier and more optimistic. Start with three things. You’ll notice how uplifted you feel and how positive your outlook can become.
- Be appreciative. Practice saying “thank you” for happy and challenging experiences. Share your blessings and express your appreciation out loud.
- See the bigger picture. Try to recognize that at least some of what you’re grateful for is outside of and larger than yourself. Look to other people, to nature, to your interpretation of spirit or a higher power.
We don’t intentionally fail to say “thank you” or notice all that we’re grateful for. But between the dull patina of habit and the many immediacies of everyday life, we can allow it to elude us; we become oblivious to its power within our reach.
I hope as you move forward in this coming year, you will take the time to summon gratitude more intentionally. With even a small amount of time and energy toward it, you can begin to shift your lens.
With little effort, the power of “thank you” provides a moment in which the sun streams in, and you find yourself awash in a feeling of gladness. As it happens again and again, you may notice that the feeling evolves into a more continuous state of contentment.
So as this beautiful blank page of the new year unfolds before you, may you feel an appreciation for all you are, all you have, and all you have done — and embrace the sheer anticipation of all that lies ahead.
And as you continue to practice gratitude, one of the most important and powerful things you can do, remember to always start with a simple “thank you.”