Each holiday season seems to bring about expectations of joy and happiness. With cozy nights at home, mugs filled with delicious warm drinks, yummy holiday treats and adorning homes with festive decor; this is the time of year most people would say they look forward to. On the other hand, that may not always be the case for others. For some, the holidays are filled with obligatory get-togethers with dreaded friends and family, costly gift exchanges, resurfacing of past traumas and missing loved ones who are no longer in their lives. As a result, it can be difficult to get into the “holiday spirit”. However, research has shown a way to combat these feelings. Studies have concluded that the practice of thankfulness and gratitude can indeed bring more happiness, improve health and feel more positive emotions. In lieu of Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is the perfect time to put gratitude into practice!
For whatever reason it may be, if you happen to find yourself going into this season feeling unhappy, discouraged, feel a sort of anxiousness or uneasiness knowing the holidays are soon ahead; I would implore you to try gratitude. I know I know, counterintuitive right? Why think about gratitude when that’s the last thing on your mind? Well, studies have been done and have all come to the same result; people who practice gratitude experience greater happiness and contentment. What they have found is an increase in positive emotions and attitudes, more joy and overall happiness as well as the ability to cope with stressful situations and build stronger relationships. Not only have they found improvements in mental health, but also improvement in physical health. Gratitude can boost immunity as well as the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Studies concluded that subjects experienced fewer respiratory issues, shortness of breath, headaches and even a reduction in blood pressure.
Now the question remains, how to put gratitude into practice. It has been said that the mind tends to focus on the “headwinds” or the barriers that we face instead of the “tailwinds”, the benefits they receive. It starts with re-training the mind, centering and honing in on positive recall. Research has found that by simply writing letters of gratitude; expressing one’s appreciation towards others for the enjoyment and impact they have had on their life is a great way to elicit positive emotions for the writer. They can be the good ole’ fashioned hand-written letters and mailed to its recipient or for those who are more keen on typing, a simple email or text can be sent out as well. Keeping a “gratitude journal” and making it a habit to write down little instances, conversations or experiences that you are grateful for can evoke positive emotions. This exercise is especially helpful, by keeping record of such things you are able to revisit them at any time and see that there is so much to be grateful for! If you find yourself with limited time and not able to write letters or keep a journal, just taking time every now and then to “count your blessings” is just as effective according to research. Lastly, studies show that meditation is another helpful tool to create a positive attitude and outlook on life. (For more information on meditation, you can visit my Resolve post under the Health and Wellness tab.) As you can see, there are many different ways to cultivate gratitude!
It’s difficult to get into a place of gratitude or thankfulness when everything seems to be going wrong or when painful memories come flooding back this time of year. But I believe one of the best ways out of this block is actually through gratitude. Focusing on the things that we are thankful for brings the mind towards a state of happiness, peace and joy. Start with any one of these suggestions and try to be as consistent with it as possible. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It will not happen overnight, this will take time. Instead of focusing on the things we don’t have or things we wish we had, gratitude shifts our perspective to appreciate the people and things that we do. Find even the smallest of things and over time you’ll find bigger and bigger things to be grateful for. There’s no time like the present! Prepare your mind for the upcoming holidays by practicing gratitude and experience the joy that it brings; it may end up changing how you feel about the holiday season!
And that’s the dirt!