Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
Unsurprisingly, gratitude has been on my mind this week. Our family has been writing things we’re grateful for on a pumpkin (totally a #pinterestidea), and it’s actually been really great. Some highlights include “the ocean,” “music,” “Lego Batman,” “Harry Potter,” and “gumballs.”
One thing I’ve been thinking about is how being grateful has helped as we’ve paid off our debts. Debt can make me feel like we don’t have enough—enough money, enough time, enough things for our kids, etc. But when I look at that pumpkin or the cute weirdos writing on it, those feelings start to fade away.
The Science on Gratitude
Research shows that being thankful makes you feel better. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, has studied the effects of gratitude on physical health for over a decade. When people keep gratitude journals, they enjoy stronger immune systems, better sleep, and more joy and pleasure, and they feel less lonely and isolated.
How Gratitude Can Help You When You’re in Debt
The more I think about it, the more I see how gratitude has made our debt journey better:
- I have a more positive outlook.
When I focus only on the big gaping black hole of our debt, I feel scared and panicked and empty. But when instead I focus on what we do have and what (and who) brings me joy, I feel so much happier and calmer. I can appreciate the plan for our finances and I have more hope.
- I spend less. So much of my excess spending and money-wasting comes from feeling like (again) I don’t have enough—enough shoes, enough cool vacations, enough plants (too nerdy? just me?). It makes it easy to impulse-buy, overspend, and buy things in a vain attempt to fill that void. But when I start to count my blessings, I remember there’s such a thing as enough so I try to use what we have and feel content with what we already own.
- I don’t turn to retail therapy to feel better. I used to run to Target after the kids were in bed so I could walk the aisles like a tired, burnt-out zombie, buying things we didn’t need. And since mindless shopping ain’t ever in the budget, I’d feel guilty and frustrated afterwards. Finding healthier ways to deal with hard days—like writing down what I’m grateful for or taking a walk with someone I appreciate—makes me feel so much better than a new shirt ever could.
- I can enjoy where I am right now. Yes, we’re still in debt. Yes, I wish we’d already paid it all off. But I don’t want to wish my life away, so it helps to check in and recognize what I love about the stage we’re in. Right now our kids are younger and they like being home with us. They don’t want a fancy or complicated life—they’re happy with movie nights at home and camping trips at the lake. I could focus on what will be better in the future, but then I’d miss all the good about today.
Gratitude is a powerful tool. I’d like to say I’m grateful all the time and I’m never down or bratty, but of course that’s not true. But it’s been good to write this out and see just how much gratitude matters. It helps, it gives perspective, and it turns what we have into enough.
What are you grateful for today?