It’s that time of year, my friends, the Holidays. It’s a time of lights and cocoa, catchy tunes and oversized sweaters. For some it may look like stockings hung in a row or 8-lit candles. However, a few characteristics seem to hold true for all: this is a season of giving, reflection and gratitude. As we gather for various reasons, we get to spend time with people we say we wish we saw more, share meals, and give thanks for all we have.
It totally makes sense that at the end of the year we celebrate and reflect on all that has happened the past 11 months. Everything has culminated and we are about to embark on the New Year. We can look back and see the year full circle. With this “end-of-the-year” lens the hurts and the happy tears begin to make more sense, we appreciate all the ramen noodles and the times we stopped to watch the sunset.
Giving thanks does more than just give us those warm and fuzzy feelings.
Expressing gratitude has all kinds of physical and mental health benefits. Grateful people are more likely to take better care of themselves, sleep better, have reduced toxic emotions, and compare themselves less to others. This helps create a cycle of healthy habits and thoughts that contribute to an enhanced well-being.
What a holiday gift this sense of self-awareness is. What if we could foster that kind of awareness and gratitude all year long? What if we took the time to reflect and be mindful all 12 months? What if intentional gratitude was part of our daily routine?
I think we all agree that would be great. But the truth is, it’s easier said than done. I bet you’ve heard a million times to “practice gratitude” but has anyone ever told you how? I say “thank you”, I feel appreciative for the things that I have, but am I constantly aware and give thanks everyday… not so much.
Here are a few things we can do to stay reflective and feel intentional gratitude throughout all 365 days:
First off, you may be “practicing” this gratitude more than you realize. Try to count the number of times you say the words “thank you” each day. We utter this phrase so many times we don’t even recognize it: when a person holds the door for you or the barista hands you your coffee, count it. Keeping track of all our small thanks reminds us that they are intentional and keeps our minds focused on the positive.
Write a letter of gratitude…and actually share it.
Pick a person and put your feelings in writing. Talk about specific things this person has done for you, how they’ve encouraged you or the lessons they’ve taught you. Don’t hold back. Get it all on the paper. Then pick up the phone, better yet, go be with the person. Next, you read your letter of gratitude to your person. Often times we wait too long to tell people why we deeply appreciate them.
Throw away your nerves or fear of crying; this will be awesome. This exercise is not just for your benefit and self-awareness either. The blessing of sharing your thanks with your chosen one will be one of the biggest encouragements you can give back to them. Check out this video for inspiration:
At the end of each day think of three good things that happened to you.
It doesn’t matter if they are big or small. Not all days are winners, but pick three things. It could be finding $5 on the ground, acing your bio exam, sharing a laugh with a stranger, or finally having that hard talk. Whatever you constitute as “good”.
Here’s the catch, don’t just point them out. Take some time to reflect on why they happened to you. I like to either set a timer on my phone or pick a regular part of my day to do this. Sometimes its while I’m on the treadmill, or in the shower, or while I’m cooking dinner. We don’t normally do this kind of thinking, and there are no wrong or right answers.
For example, the praise your teacher or boss gave you could have been because they were in a great mood or you put in the extra work and rocked your project. Notice it, give thought, and recognize the reasons behind the blessings in your day-to-day life. This is the important part. By picking a reason why you are training your mind to give positive attributions. Again, the more you focus on the positive, the more you will be able to notice the good as it comes and be grateful in the moment.
Are all these things easy to do? No. Is it normal to do them on and off? Yes. Can your reasoning for why you got that awesome parking spot be because the universe said you deserve this win? Absolutely.
If we start small and begin to treat every evening as a culmination, we can train ourselves to be aware of all the beauties in our daily life. The Holidays are a special time and help bring out the best in people. However, we can help retain that same spirit of gratitude we love so much about the holidays and carry it on throughout the rest of the year.
Wishing you and yours a season full of snuggles and full bellies. Remember to count your blessings and be kind to one another. Happy Holidays, friends!
Also published on Medium.