Hallmark Christmas movies - we see right through your BS. Sure, we'll admit that we've fallen into a snow day-induced TV trance (or two), indulgently soaking up the warmth of your predictable plots and cookie-cutter romance. But we're not going to let Candace Cameron Bure's immaculately rosy cheeks and perfectly coordinated winter accessories fool us; because we know as well as anyone that in the real world, the holiday season is can be a difficult time of year when it comes to maintaining mental health and wellness. (Also, most of those films were shot in 60 degree weather).
In fact, feeling "out-of-whack" this time of year is not an uncommon experience. As the amount of sunlight decreases, so does your the production of hormones such as serotonin and melatonin; two important pieces of your body's body and brain regulating puzzle. Throw in a downpour of guerilla-style corporate marketing campaigns, some financial stress, and a dash of in-laws, and before you know it, self-care will have snuck its way out the back door before you even had the chance to say... well, whatever the politically correct holiday greeting is nowadays.
Before you descend into your own version of a “Blue Christmas”, you should give gratitude a try.
In comes gratitude.
Consider this: The heavily commercial nature of the holiday season is- at its core- driven by consumer behavior. Companies profit by determining the goods and services that the consumer “wants” or think that they “need”. In contrast, gratitude is an emotion which expresses appreciation for what one already has. In this way, practicing gratitude allows us to transcend the unfulfilling, superficial aspects of the holidays, and can realign us with the authentic meaning of the season.
If you’re still not convinced, there are also plenty of other reasons why you should start getting serious about counting your blessings. Studies have found that people with a grateful mindset tend to sleep better (1), show fewer signs of depression (2), take better care of their bodies (3), have better and more meaningful relationships (4), and make smarter decisions (5, 6).
Because we’re humans just like you, we understand that it can be a struggle to be grateful sometimes (READ: most of the time). So in the spirit of the giving, we did you the favor of rounding up some of our favorite, no-BS strategies for integrating gratitude into everyday life. It’s an easy first thing to be grateful for today! (You’re welcome.)
Train Your Brain
One of the first components of a habit is a cue- a trigger that reminds us to do that thing we want to make a habit. If you think about it, a lot of your habits already have triggers- if you’re hungry, you eat; if you’re startled, you jump; if your phone buzzes, you pick it up and check your notifications. These are all examples of what are called “preceding triggers”- and they are wonderful tools to utilize if you are serious about training your brain to get grateful.
It’s pretty simple: first, think of a small moment in your day - something routine like locking your front door, drinking your morning coffee, or taking a shower. Next, brainstorm a quick, five second gratitude exercise that would be realistic for you to incorporate into your daily routine. Then, every day, intentionally link those two actions together. Pretty soon, your trigger will become as synonymous with gratitude as cookies and milk.
Get Grateful in Groups
If you want to cultivate gratitude in your life, don’t be shy about it! In fact, one of the best ways to get gratitude to stick is to get your family and friends involved in practicing it with you.
Next time your out for a meal with family, friends, co-workers, or clients- try going around the table and having each person share, one by one, something that they are grateful for. The benefits of this practice are plentiful. For one, it has been shown that expressing your gratitude out loud can help the message “sink in”- giving the full power of the words the opportunity to resonate with your brain and body. Hearing some of the things that others in your life are grateful for may also help you to recognize and appreciate similar moments in your day. For example, imagine your partner were to share with you that he/she was grateful for the five minutes you two were able to spend together while making coffee this morning. Most likely, you would gain a greater appreciation for that moment, you would become more aware of (and grateful for) similar moments in the future, your relationship with your partner would grow stronger, and your quality of life would ultimately increase. Who can say no to that?!
Be in Awe of Everything
If you think about it, life is a series of truly profound events. Just think about your ability to read these very words. Tens of thousands of amazingly complicated mechanisms - from the structural functions of your eyes to the complex processing mechanisms of your brain- must be functioning with precision and working in perfect synchronicity to allow this all to happen. It’s nothing short of amazing, yet it’s just one of the many things that we take for granted each and every day. Some of the most awe-inspiring moments in life have become so routine and familiar to us that we have forgotten how grateful we should be. If you ever find yourself having a difficult time finding something to be thankful for, getting right down to basics can be an effective way to inspire your sense of gratitude.
Pay it Forward
It certainly doesn’t hurt to help those around you! Participating in something bigger than yourself can go a long ways in enhancing your sense of connection and belonging - two key ingredients for happiness. In fact, a study conducted in 2013 found that participants who regularly volunteered were more likely to be optimistic and feel a greater sense of control over their lives than those who didn’t. Acts of service, such as volunteering or donating, can change your outlook and expand your point of view. With a change in perspective, you may find that you are not only more aware of what you have, but what it means to have it.
Being grateful is nothing to be shy about! If you look forward to the smile you get each morning from your mailman, write a note to tell him how much it means to you. If you appreciate the way your husband always lets you choose the movie, and never complains when you take three hours to actually make a decision, let him know that you are thankful for that and all the other little things he does.
Not only will verbalizing your gratitude brighten the day of those around you - it will help you to build new relationships as well. A 2014 study found that those who thanked new acquaintances for their help were more likely to develop those relationships and make a new friend.
This holiday season, start getting intentional about you’re daily “I’m grateful for...” practice, and do so in a way that works for you and your lifestyle. Who knows, you just may end up thanking yourself!
Share you’re thoughts and progress with us, and stay tuned for some more posts from us- both on gratitude, and much, much more.