By Shelby Cranshaw
Posted in Mental Health Resources
Throughout the holiday season, we are reminded more often than usual to be grateful. We receive these reminders from holiday decorations, greeting cards, and advertisements. However, it’s easy for us to lose sight of why we should actually be grateful when the inundation of reminders to “give thanks” makes the message easy to ignore. But, we shouldn’t ignore it.
We tend to focus on all the negatives in our lives. We get bogged down with ideas about what we are lacking and what we want to change about ourselves. Our brain is wired to react stronger to negative thoughts than positive thoughts. The biological purpose of this is to protect ourselves from danger. However, this isn’t always the most helpful. Our focus on negative thoughts can be relentless and the more we focus on the negative, the harder it becomes to focus on the positive. We forget that we probably have a lot more to be grateful for than to be unhappy about.
The holiday season typically puts all we are supposed to be thankful for on full display. This season can be almost overwhelmingly full: full of family, full of friends, full of food, and full of gifts. We can lose perspective because of this abundance and forget to acknowledge the things that we are truly grateful for. And we really shouldn’t ignore doing this.
There are positive psychological benefits in acknowledging these little things that we are grateful for. We feel happier, sleep better, and are more likely to express kindness to others when we practice gratitude. A simple routine of taking the time to acknowledge those things in your life that you are grateful for is all it takes.
Acknowledge it in your thoughts, write it down, or share it with a friend. And just because the holiday season has an end, does not mean your gratitude practice has to end. Carry it into the New Year. The reminders will die down, but the psychological benefits of gratefulness will not.
Here’s a challenge for you: every time you see one of these (perhaps) insincere reminders, think of one thing that you are grateful for in that moment. It doesn’t have to be something big. In fact, focus on the small stuff. Is it the cup of coffee you’re drinking? An unusually quiet train ride? The festive lights around the city? Just acknowledge something that you appreciate at the moment.
Beginning a gratitude practice is a fantastic way of connecting you to the present and giving you those positive psychological benefits. It can be as simple as something like described above, acknowledging and writing down three things that you are grateful for, or a quick call to a friend or family member to tell them that you care about them. Don’t worry if it seems tough at first, as you stick to it you began to notice the positive things in life more and more.
Creating a habit of gratitude allows us to recognize the positives in our life, both large and small. We are often hyper-focused on the negative or stressful aspects of our lives. Gratitude pulls you out of this and helps you connect with your strengths rather than weakness. Give it a try this holiday season, and you’ll be grateful you did.