5 Reasons to Practice Gratitude This Holiday Season

close up photo of thankful woman christmas

What do we mean by practicing gratitude?

Quite simply, gratitude is about being grateful; thankful for the good things we have in our lives, which we can sometimes take for granted.  

How often do you say ‘thank you’ as a matter of course, without much thought or meaning? You say it to be polite, but the response is automatic. You move on to the next thing in your day, not giving any thought to the act of kindness shown to you. It can be the same when overlooking other items in our lives worthy of appreciation, like having a place to live, friendship, healthy food, and beauty in nature.  

What does gratitude feel like?

Gratitude is a really positive emotion.

It can uplift us and create a warm feeling, perhaps triggering an immediate smile in a moment of kindness or thankfulness. And it’s from those positive emotions we get a decisive boost, capable of shifting our mindset from negative to positive and significantly enhancing our mental health and well-being.

Why is gratitude so important during the holiday season?

group of people drinking

The holiday season is well underway, and preparations are in full swing. Festivals and celebrations are just around the corner bringing with them their own set of unique stresses and tensions.

Let us pause for a moment and consider some of the top ‘stressors’ at this time of year.

  • Social anxiety.
  • Unrealistic expectations.
  • Grief.
  • Temptations in the form of overindulgences, such as alcohol and drugs.
  • Being alone.
  • Strained relationships.
  • Financial difficulties.

And there are more individual to differing circumstances, from lack of ‘me’ time to worrying whether a gift is good enough.

Anxiety builds with the list of worries, and fears become amplified by the season of goodwill.

Stress is inevitable and can quickly impact our mental health and well-being.

This is why it is essential to start practicing gratitude as part of our daily routine this holiday season. 

Five reasons to practice gratitude this holiday season

1. Increase self-esteem

Feeling ‘not good enough’ and lacking in confidence can be debilitating.  

Going back to the list of stressors, self-esteem is linked to social anxiety, unrealistic expectations, being alone and strained relationships. The pressures can pile on to be prettier, thinner, best dressed, host/hostess, husband/wife, parent, gift giver, life and soul of the party, etc.

By constantly comparing yourself to others, all the joy is sucked out of life, leaving feelings of sadness, inadequacy, and anxiety.

Studies have shown that people who regularly practice gratitude have higher self-esteem, are less likely to compare themselves to others, and have a stronger sense of their value.

2. Build resilience 

How do you manage the tough times and increase your inner strength?

Not that the holiday season should be challenging, but…

Stress gives you heartburn during the day and keeps you awake at night. There is so much on your mind and your ‘to-do’ list that you just want to slide down a wall and stay there until the holidays are over. 

It is critical during stressful times to take time to breathe and reflect on all the things you are grateful for.

Your overall feelings and sense of well-being can improve dramatically and positively affect your mental health. Your mind works better when you practice gratitude. You’re more open to problem-solving and using effective, healthy coping skills. Therefore, you build resilience over time and are less stressed when dealing with unpleasant or challenging situations.

3. Strengthen relationships

family spending christmas together

How do you please everyone all of the time?

You can’t.

It’s tricky, and all boils down to expectations, which can be exceptionally high around the holiday season.

What if you love the holidays and enjoy celebrating, but your partner doesn’t? Maybe the rest of the family loves it, and you want to run away and hide? Perhaps you’re expected to spend the holidays with the ‘in-laws,’ and the children are expected to be on their best behaviour?

So many expectations, fuelling anxiety and feelings of being taken for granted, can put a massive strain on relationships – especially over the holiday season. 

Research on practicing gratitude in relationships

Research by Kubacka and colleagues (2011) investigated specifically how gratitude influences positive behaviours toward a spouse over time. They found that:

  • Spouses feel gratitude for their partners when they perceive their partners’ behaviour as responsive to their needs.
  • The feeling of gratitude motivates reciprocal behaviour that responds to their partners’ needs.
  • When that reciprocal behaviour is perceived, feelings of gratitude result in them as well.
  • A positive cycle is created over time, with increasing appreciation and loving behaviour from both individuals.

From this research, we see that choosing to be thankful and appreciative of your partner and expressing gratitude can ignite a reciprocal exchange, increasing the chances of a more loving and positive relationship.

If we go back to a sense of gratitude being able to shift our mindset, spouses and partners can support one another to move from negative to positive thoughts, lifting unhappiness, distress, and anxiety. 

4. Improve mental health 

For those that don’t enjoy good mental health, practicing gratitude can be a turning point in unwrapping negative thoughts.  

Negative thoughts and thought processes are a commonality to anxiety and depression, irrespective of whatever forms they manifest. Sufferers tend to dwell on the past or propel into the future with fear of the known (or the unknown) which means that being in the present moment is rare.

The goal of practicing gratitude is to think more positively, therefore, triggering feel-good emotions, as summed up by the Brain Balance Center: 

“Gratitude can boost the neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine. Dopamine is our brain’s natural pleasure chemical. So, the more we think positive, grateful thoughts, the healthier and happier we feel”.

5. Be happier

smiling mother and daughter by the christmas tree

In all of the above, the underlying theme is an improved mindset, with gratitude leading to more happiness and a deeper connection with others and ourselves.

It can also engender other positive emotions, including feeling:

  • Joyful
  • Loving
  • Calm
  • Content.

And who couldn’t use some more of those in our lives?

In short, ‘Gratitude is an Attitude’, and a study by the American Psychological Association, found that those who practiced gratitude experienced more optimism and connection as well as finding more happiness and perception of well-being overall.

Three simple gratitude exercises to get started

Now we have established how much your life and well-being can improve, let’s look at simple ways to get started to add more joy to your holiday season.

Gratitude jar

A wonderfully visual way to get started is to write down short notes of what you’re grateful for throughout the day and put them in a pot or jar. Then, go back to them when you need a happiness boost or a reminder of all the great things in your life.

Gratitude Journal

Again, this can be a simple notebook where you bullet point your thoughts at the beginning or end of each day. Otherwise, you can purchase a gratitude journal with prompts to focus your thoughts.  

Why not gift yourself one for the New Year?

Gratitude mood board

Create a collage of everything you are grateful for and give it a prominent position in your home to remind yourself every day of everything you’re thankful for.

Last words for a happy holiday

Throughout this post, we have looked at some of the benefits that practicing gratitude can bring into your life. 

It is by no means a substitute or a cure for diagnosed mental or physical health problems. Nor should it be used in a way that prompts feelings of guilt when you feel you ‘must’ be grateful.

Instead, look upon it as a powerful habit in your mental health and well-being toolbox to help you remain optimistic as you navigate more difficult times, allowing you to build resilience, thrive in relationships, and celebrate happiness.

Our friendly, experienced team of experts at Centres for Health and Healing has helped people with all types of mental health problems. Call us today to learn how we can help you or someone you know look forward to a happy, healthy new year.

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