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What Are You Thankful For? | 4 Ways the Past Can Benefit Your Future

Nov 19, 2021

It's that time of year again...time to be thankful.  It's the beginning of the season where we gather more often with friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry.  Thanksgiving is beginning of the time where being thankful seems like the most obvious thing in the world, and yet it's so easy to miss an opportunity to truly reflect and actually be thankful.

At first glance "What are you thankful for?" is a great question, but I (Mark) wholeheartedly disagree.  But before you want to fight me in a parking lot for saying so, hear me out.

"What are you thankful for?" is too broad of a question.  When the answer to the same question could be as generic as "I'm thankful for tacos" and as specific as "my spouse for taking care of me and keeping the household together while I was sick last month"; it's not the best question.

Additionally, "What are you thankful for?" often resuts in a fleeting moment.  It might be a great moment, but soon enough, "poof," the moment has passed.  Thinking about good things is fine, but engaging in specific good things is WAY better.

We aren't suggesting that you shouldn't try to answer the question, and we most certainly aren't suggesting you shouldn't spend time reflecting on what you are thankful for.  We just believe there is way more to explore than 1 simple broad question and a fleeting moment of thought.

One of the best ways we have found to explore the depths to which we are truly thankful is 1. to think about specific things with some additional context, and 2. take action with some simple things that connect the past with the present and a brighter future.  Follow along below for a guided reflection on the many things that bring about an attitude of gratitude and what to do about it.

4 Ways the Past Can Benefit Your Future

Nostalgia is good for the soul.  While many opinions throughout history have been held on the matter, recent research studies regularly show that taking a stroll down memory lane is connected to warmth, increased self-awareness, social connection, and higher "happy chemical" levels, and more gratitude.  An article published in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology from 2015, provides a deep dive into the history and newfound benefits of nostalgia showing that "Nostalgia is a past-oriented emotion that has implications for the present...and possible future selves."

Research affirms that nostalgia is not a longing for the past, but a positive habit that opens us up to fond memories and increases the likelihood that we will experience more of the same happiness in the present and future.

Another study published in 2021 found that nostalgia acted as a cure for loneliness in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The surprising results found that intentional reflection on meaningful experiences from our past increases our measure of happiness in the present.  Even in the worst of times, our past can carry us through into a better future.

In the variety of studies we have read and collected with implications for marriage health, the things that brought about the most "warm fuzzies" were favorite moments, meaningful places, influential people, and songs from "the good old days." Now that we've done the work of chasing down supporting evidence for the value of "looking back," make nostalgia work for you and your marriage by Reflecting and Taking Action on these 4 things...

Favorite Moments


We love the simple concept of having discussions around "Top 5 Moments."  It's an easy way to start a conversation and celebrate the many things we have to be thankful for.  We encourage couples to work together to create a list of top 5 moments in a given period of time (i.e. all-time, in your marriage, since having kids, the last year, etc.).  You may be reminded of things you weren't thinking of, and sometimes even difficult times you have overcome make the list.

Taking Action

Pick just 1 thing from your list that you could recreate in the here and now and do it together or as a family.  


Meaningful Places


Moments are fun to think about, but places often help paint a mental picture in our minds that draws on multiple senses at one time. Think back to memories of places that have meaning to you and your family.  Place yourself at a table in your favorite restaurant(s), describe the car you drove to your first date destination, or walk along the timeline of the variety of houses you've lived in. 

Taking Action

While you have some time off or may be visiting your hometown during the holiday season, take your spouse or family to one of your favorite spots: drive by your childhood home, visit your favorite date spots, or take your kids to your elementary school playground and enjoy it all over again.


Influential People


We all have different influential people in our lives.  Some of them have been examples to watch from afar and others have been there in the trenches with us anytime we have needed help or wise advice.  Have a convo with your spouse about someone who has influenced you or discuss the people who have helped your relationship. 

Taking Action

Consider sending them a simple text, a handwritten thank you card, or a little treat communicating their value to you and your life.


Songs from "The Good Old Days"


We all know the songs that make us stop whatever we're doing, turn up the volume, and sing at the top of our lungs.  These are the songs that you don't mind having stuck in your head while you try to sleep, the songs that that you downloaded risking infection to the family computer in your quest to create the perfect mixtape CD, and the dance songs on your "must play list" from your wedding day that kept the dance floor full well into the night.  There is no question that music moves us differently (literally and metaphorically). 

Take Action

Take some time to craft your perfect playlist together.  Load up the "Disney's Greatest Hits" channel on Spotify for a family-friendly singalong or dance party; Consider dancing in the middle of your living room to your "first dance" song; Or take a page out of Ted Lasso's book and play a game of "1st Concert/Best Concert" and then pick a song from those experiences and sing your hearts out.


To be fair, let's take a moment and admit that marriage is hard.  Life, family, and relationships give us plenty of reasons to feel tired and beat down.  But before we let another moment pass or allow our marriage to take a turn for the worse, let's look back and remember that we all have something to be thankful for.  From now until January 1, take time (each week, 1 day, or even just a few moments) to ensure that you have time to reflect and take action on the things that you are thankful for so that you can feel the power of being thankful in the present moment and increase the likelihood of creating even more memorable moments in your future.





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