The holidays can be a difficult time for a lot of people, especially given the events of the last year. As COVID-19 forever altered life as we know it, your life may look drastically different than it did two years ago. As things slowly return to normal, you may be able to go see family or loved ones again this holiday season. As everyone’s life has changed in one way or another, you may have anxiety or depression getting back to the holidays and a sense of normalcy, which is normal. Here is why taking a moment to express thankfulness and gratitude can be entirely beneficial, and some actionable steps you can take to express it this holiday season.
According to Robert Emmons at UC Berkeley, the world’s leading psychological expert on gratitude, thankfulness yields a higher quality of life. In his studies of over one-thousand people, ranging from eight years old to eighty years old, he found that those expressing thankfulness and gratitude regularly experience several physical, psychological, and social benefits.
Physically, expressing thankfulness and gratitude can lead to a stronger immune system, less aggravation about aches and pains, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and more willingness to exercise. Psychologically, positive emotions, a sense of alertness and awareness, and more optimism and happiness are associated with thankfulness and gratitude. Socially, those who express thankfulness and gratitude feel more compassionate, giving, helpful, generous, forgiving, and outgoing instead of isolated and lonely.
According to Psychology Today, gratitude can be simply defined as the expression of appreciation for what one has. People often assume gratitude to be a practice when in fact, it’s an emotion! While we may not have control over our feelings all the time (which is okay, as it’s a part of being human), we can control how and when we express gratitude. Making the conscious effort to count your blessings is a simple process that can help you feel better about each and every day, even in the face of what the last year has thrown at all of us.
Gratitude matters when it comes to a higher quality of life. There is always something or someone to for which to be thankful. Gratitude is a unique emotion since it can be practiced at any time and in any situation. Taking a moment to express gratitude can help you cultivate other positive feelings like happiness, joy, serenity, amusement, and hope. Gratitude has a snowball effect when it comes to positive emotion.
All you need is a mason jar (a used candle or shoebox will also do) and either some sticky notes or paper. Write down all the things you’re grateful for and put it in the jar or box. If you’re feeling down or sad, looking at all the things you’re grateful and thankful for can cultivate the emotion of gratitude, which in turn can trigger other happy, feel-good, positive feelings. You can add to your gratitude jar or box every single day. Be sure to jot down something new every time. It can be as simple as expressing your thanks and gratitude for a loved one or the ability to order in food when you don’t want to leave the house. Pretty soon, your jar or box will be overflowing with reasons to be thankful and grateful!
You don’t need to be raking in six figures or have the body of a triathlete or supermodel to express gratitude or thankfulness. In fact, our society often says you need to possess A, B, and C to feel thankful or grateful. This is not true. Societal expectations can stonewall your gratitude and thankfulness. Life is often about the little and simple things. Getting delicious coffee and a bagel on your way to work is a wonderful thing to be grateful for! Things don’t have to be complex in order for you to express gratitude.
Similar to a gratitude jar, a journal can help you keep track of things and people you’re thankful for on a daily basis. Simply writing down five to ten things that you’re grateful for every day can help cultivate feelings of thankfulness and gratitude. After all, not only is gratitude an emotion, but a skill set that anyone can develop. Starting your day by listing things you’re grateful and thankful for can help you practice thankfulness and gratitude.
No matter where you live, take a moment to enjoy and appreciate the beauty in nature! The natural world provides so much to be thankful and grateful for. Taking a walk, going on a hike, taking a trip to your favorite body of water, or stopping to smell some flowers outside can help you appreciate nature. Fresh air and plants have been long associated with positive feelings.
Take a moment each day to talk to a valued loved one, friend, or family member and nurture those relationships. Let the valued people in your life know that you appreciate them. Spending time with your favorite people can increase feelings of gratitude and thankfulness. In the season of thankfulness, one of the best things you can do is express gratitude for your loved ones!
There are plenty of causes in this world that need extra time and attention. Finding a cause close to your heart and helping where you can cultivate feelings of thankfulness and gratitude for others. Putting a smile on someone else’s face can help put a smile on yours! You can donate time or money to a cause you feel is worthy can help brighten someone’s world. This can look like volunteering at your local animal shelter or soup kitchen, donating clothing you don’t use, or sparing five dollars to a charitable cause or someone in need. Giving doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective.
With all the wonderful ways to practice thankfulness and gratitude this holiday season, find one that resonates with you. The holiday season can be hectic but taking time to express gratitude and thankfulness is always worth it, especially with the current state of the world still experiencing the ramifications of the pandemic. There’s always something to be grateful or thankful for!
Here at Dr. Messina and Associates, our compassionate team of professionals are qualified to help you at our Flower Mound, Texas, and Southlake, Texas, offices. Our Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Counselors specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychological testing, and medication management for a variety of emotional and behavioral health needs. All services are available in-person and online (telehealth). If you or a loved one are seeking help with mental health, we are here to help.