What Can Practicing Gratitude Do For You?
It brings up an interesting aspect of the Holidays. The meaning of the season often gets left behind as people scramble for Black Friday deals, and bend over backwards to give their families the best that they can with limited time and, often, limited budgets.
In a recent newsletter sent out to our mailing list, Janice implores us to remember that there are many people in the world who cannot celebrate or do not have anyone to celebrate the holidays with. It's a good reminder, especially as we eye Aunt Edna gearing up for a tirade...
In years past, the holidays have felt forced to me. Thanksgiving's original celebration seems overshadowed by the grim events that followed for the indigenous people who were helpful to the settlers that first Thanksgiving. Christmas, too, has felt less and less about the original purpose i.e. celebrating the religious holiday and birth of Christ, and more like a consumption riddled frenzy. I'm not religious, so attempts to make it feel more sacred aren't necessarily the answer.
Somewhere under all the glitter, and the signs, and the deals, and the gluttony; there is a real reason for celebrating the holidays. I would like to tease this out of the rituals and habits visited each season without much thought.
It seems to make sense to go back to the root of the Holidays. Despite what happened since; Thanksgiving is a day in which friends and family gather after the Harvest to express their thankfulness. Gratitude itself is such a wonderful and important part of a healthy lifestyle. Many studies have shown that those that practice gratitude everyday tend to be more optimistic and healthier.
This article from Harvard mentions several such studies where the outcome proved, once again, all the benefits of practicing gratitude.
If we are to take anything from the Holidays; perhaps it should be that this feeling is one that shouldn't occur only once or twice a year, but something that we practice all year long.
This isn't a new concept, by any means, but it's one that we see people struggling to put into action.
Exercises for gratitude can include:
- Journaling each day and listing something you are grateful for, no matter how inane or seemingly unimportant.
- Remembering to thank the people in your life for their assistance and for going out of their way for you.
- Looking at the things we often feel plagued or upset by and trying to find something positive in it; perhaps a lesson learned, a connection, or recognition of having overcome it. Be grateful for the silver lining.
- At meal times remembering to be thankful for your food, and sharing that gratitude out loud with those you may eat with, or thanking those that prepared the meals not only verbally but in your actions (perhaps by helping to clean up).
Christmas, too, can have the the true meaning teased out. If Thanksgiving is expressing thanks and practicing gratitude, that I see Christmas as a time of giving and showing people we care and appreciate them. Here are some of the ways to do this other than opening you wallet too wide:
- Have a story time, let everyone share something from their life that the others may not know and really listen to them. Our culture typically has us glossing over the meaningful things in our lives and staying very surface with each other. Practice deep listening.
- Make something for someone, especially something that you know that they really need. Again, this means having listened and paid attention to each other.
- Do something nice for the other person, if that means helping them dig snow or clean up the house, bake something or invite them to dinner. Actions can often speak louder than words. What has someone in your life been putting off for a long time that you can help with?
- Let people know you love and appreciate them. Use the traditional 12 days of Christmas as a starting point, and maybe leave them a note for each day with something else you appreciate about them. If we do not tell someone we care and appreciate them, they may not know!
In other suggestions, planning to do something together in the future, or to work on a project together, create something, or help another with something, go on a trip or otherwise spend time together are all wonderful ways to side step the materialism of the Holidays.
Experiences and spending time together is what it's all about, learning and growing with each other!
Let me be clear that I have nothing specifically against present giving - it's more the unconscious purchasing of things that people do not need or cannot use just as a sort of 'throw away giving' that I dislike. The world needs us to be more thoughtful with our consumption, and in the end; I believe it detracts from the purpose of the season. If getting the mashed potatoes just right is going to take you away from actually enjoying your Holiday, then screw the mashed potatoes and eat chips with your turkey.
Let yourself have fun and play with the Holiday, trying your best but not beating yourself up if for some reason it doesn't go the way you expected.
Focus on your intention of gratitude and giving and all will go right!