There is no better antidote for the holiday blues than gratitude. Thankfulness raises your spirits because you cannot be in a state of anxiety, worry, or anger at the same time you are experiencing gratitude; it’s just not possible. A study of couples found that people who expressed gratitude for their partner felt more positive about them and felt safer expressing concerns about their relationship. Research has also demonstrated a host of benefits for people who practice gratitude consistently including stronger immune systems, higher levels of positive emotions, joy, optimism, and happiness, and acting with greater generosity and compassion. So what’s not to like, right?
The following are five of my favorite ways to express gratitude.
- “The George Bailey effect”: One evening 37 years ago I was studying at the University of Missouri Medical School library, and decided to take a break. When I returned to my table, there was a cute girl sitting there, and we started chatting, which led to me asking her to walk down to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. Before she left that night I got her phone number etched in the OB-GYN textbook I was studying, which led to a date a few weeks later, which led to us being married for 35 years to date. The George Bailey method of gratitude is to imagine what your life would be like without major blessings you have experienced, like your spouse, children, or important events. For example, I can’t imagine how my life would have unfolded if Anne hadn’t serendipitously sat at my table that evening. That was THE most important moment of my life, and for that I am forever grateful.
- Express gratitude in person: Especially in this day and age where so much of our communications are through screens, take a moment this holiday season to tell people what they have meant to you, and do it face-to-face. It’s a much richer experience when you can read people’s body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions.
- Life lessons: Remember the “bad times”, contrast that with where you are now, and focus on how far you have come. This can bring a wave of forgiveness, completion, and appreciation for your growth. A good motto to live by is ‘Whenever you fall, pick something up’. That includes the lessons and gifts you received from the tough experiences.
- Your focus: Look for things to be grateful for in your everyday life. Too often we are too distracted with our devices and busyness to appreciate the gifts that are all around us. Remember too that what you focus on you get more of, gratitude included.
- Journaling: Spend a few moments at the end of each day writing down the things you are grateful for. It allows you to end the day in a peaceful, contented, loving state of mind, setting the stage for a more restful sleep.
The research is clear about the many positive effects of practicing gratitude. This runs true for adults, married couples, teenagers, and younger children at home and at school. Raise your spirits this holiday season and throughout the year by disciplining yourself to be in a state of gratitude by using some of the tools mentioned above. Becoming a more grateful person might be the best present you give to your loved ones.