In spite of the fact that we have an entire day named for it, the practice of giving thanks can be easy to overlook during the holidays. There are plenty of roadblocks: chaotic schedules with school and work, lengthy travel to visit loved ones, the mood impacts of fewer daylight hours, and social engagements where we feel obligated to "keep up with the Joneses."
I personally find it harder to access gratitude during times when life is in flux and I have less control—and there is nothing like planning gatherings with friends and loved ones to create the perfect storm!
Yet I know that expressing gratitude is one of the simplest ways to connect with our spirit and has been found to profoundly impact happiness, health, and connection with others. For one, grateful people tend to take better care of themselves and engage in healthier lifestyle habits like regular exercise and a healthy diet. Grateful people tend to be more optimistic, a characteristic that researchers connect to healthier immune systems. Gratitude also strengthens relationships, creating opportunities for oxytocin release.
This year I want to place a special emphasis on connecting with loved ones, and sharing appreciation is a wonderful way to do that. Just the other day, my husband and I got our wires crossed on a weekend full of activities with our sons. In a series of miscommunications, I failed to appreciate the work he was doing for our family and only focused on my frustration that it didn’t fit into my plan for the day. The whole day was more stressful and less enjoyable than it needed to be.
So, how can we better connect to gratitude in our relationships? Here are some ideas my family has been implementing this season.
Share gratitude before meals. My sons, husband, and I share our appreciations for the day before dinner each night. I especially love this at Thanksgiving, and try to make it happen no matter who we’re celebrating with. While there aren’t a lot of rules, I’m trying personally to appreciate something about each family member each day.
Write it down. Rather than a gratitude journal, I am trying to write notes of gratitude when I notice something I appreciate in another person. Even if it’s just a quick text, I get a lot out of pausing to be thankful for someone else’s skill or trait and letting them know!
Shift your focus. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to consciously focus on the positive in a situation. Maybe you even need to express your annoyance first, like I did with my husband the other day. Then you can authentically experience gratitude without having to "fake it 'til you make it."
Look back. Our family recently sat down together and looked at photos of our sons as they’ve grown up. The kids giggled and had a great time, and my husband and I felt full of gratitude for what we have now and what we have been given through the years. It really put NOW into perspective. Reminiscing on past joys tends to naturally create a sense of peace and feeling blessed.
Pause. Balancing the needs of work and family often means personal time can become scarce—especially during the holidays. I find it’s easier to connect with gratitude in my relationships when I give myself five minutes to pause, whether that’s with coffee, a good song, or a quick walk. Then I can get back in the game and be that much more appreciative.
What are some ways that you try to weave gratitude into your daily life, especially at the holidays? Answer in our Forum.
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.