Thanksgiving Travel Tip: Be Grateful. Duh….

Couple embraced in a busy airport while people are in motion bluOK. This sounds too simple for words. But the best empirically tested wisdom positive psychologists may have to offer for surviving Thanksgiving travel may be to practice gratitude, with a good share of kindness thrown in.

This is not simply because gratitude and kindness is the reason for the season. Rather, these are two of the most powerful positivity builders in our arsenal of building well-being. But like many simple schemes in life, this one is not easy. Particularly in the middle of a crowded airport, seated on the floor by the back wall, after the third cancellation of your flight. Throw in a few harried travelers with high-pitched, in-your-face screams – the kind my mom would have called “extra pushy” – and kindness and gratitude are the farthest from your mind.

So why should we try, and how should we do it? The best scientific reason is that some very good research out of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, teaches us that having at least three positive emotional reactions to each negative one is the tipping point for well-being. According to professor/researcher Barbara Fredrickson, positivity opens us up, makes us feel good and changes the way our mind works for the better. To make it easy to monitor and increase positivity, she offers a website that lets you test and record your own positivity ratio for free.

She cautions that we’re not talking about faking it. The old grin and bear it doesn’t cut it. We’re talking the genuine article. So how? Two excellent research-based strategies are (1) to prep ourselves for the coming holiday season by recording three things that went well before turning in for the night at least a few times a week and (2) make that travel day a “counting kindnesses” day – in other words a day we focus on doing kind things for others and write them down.

So head to the airport already feeling grateful for those things that have gone well, and pack a paper and pen for counting those kindnesses you do for other harried travelers and maybe that customer service rep trapped behind the airline counter.

Finally, don’t forget to comb travel day for humorous ironies, and be willing to laugh at the global impatience of it all.  Here we are, annoyed with people on our way to a place of gratitude 10,000 miles away. Can we shorten the trip by practicing gratitude before we get there?

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