This holiday season, remember to embrace the reason we celebrate. Beyond the baked pies, candy canes, and store-wide sales events, there’s the people in our lives who have journeyed through this year and come out the other side. These people, whether friends, family, coworkers, or perfect strangers, are all looking for peace and comfort (especially after the year we’ve had). This season, let’s share the spirit of gratitude and humanness towards those in our outer and inner circles. Not only does gratitude strengthen relationships, but it also eases stress, increases life satisfaction, and boosts overall health. Building a habit of gratitude is a rewarding gift that touches the people around you as well as yourself. Let’s check out some gratitude-building exercises as we end this crazy 2020 year and look forward to a better 2021.


Gratitude Journal

Gratitude journaling is a wonderful way to maintain a positive perspective throughout your day as well as reminding you of the small things that happened that are easily missed. As gratitude journaling becomes a habit, you’ll begin looking for material to write about each day. In doing this, you’ll become more attentive towards the things you’re grateful for, knowing you’ll be writing it down later. An added benefit of heightened gratitude is that it displaces worry or stress, bringing the focus around to what you can control. 

If this is your first dive into gratitude journaling, get started by creating five columns in a notebook. Label each column with one of the five arenas of gratitude: Work, Family/Friends, Nature, Material Comforts, and Uplifting Experiences. Write the days of the week down the side of the paper and create a table. Each day, jot down the moments of gratitude you noticed for each of the columns. Alternatively, gratitude journals are available at office stores and have their own style, writing prompts, and inspirational tips. There is no right or wrong way to start a gratitude journal, so choose a style that works for you!

Another great thing about gratitude journaling is that you’ll see emotional gains even after a few days. Getting into the right mindset and focusing on thankfulness and positivity will help bring you through the holidays with more resilience. 


Remember The Positives About Difficult People

We all have that one relative who causes friction, holds 20-year-long grudges, debates politically charged topics, or maintains a woefully thin filter. Whether you’re seeing family for Christmas or spending time with them virtually, awkward moments and painful stress points are bound to crop up. And while avoiding in-person gatherings may help calm some of those things down, there may be some negative comments that manage to squeeze through the virtual airwaves. 

In the spirit of gratitude, remember that thankfulness and peace helps people feel more connected to each other. If a relative begins hitting a nerve and you feel your emotions starting to rise, think of a couple things that you appreciate about that person. If this is difficult in the moment, then recall a shared experience with them that was fun or positive. Or of a hard time that you helped each other through together. Remaining polite and redirecting conversation can help diffuse strong emotions, perhaps even reminding your relative of the spirit behind the Christmas season. 


Write Thank You Notes Or Letters

These days, nothing quite demonstrates sincerity and thoughtfulness as a hand-written letter; and perhaps even more-so this year. Almost all of us have been impacted by COVID, and many people have remained strong on the outside as life uncertainties continue to wear them down. Those who have endured in silence are the ones who would greatly appreciate recognition of their strength and tenacity, as well encouragement to keep going.

Remember those who have been most socially isolated throughout this year due to quarantine and various shutdowns. Reading a letter from you about current goings-on will help keep them connected with people and the outside world. Or perhaps the people in your life who have had a hard time navigating job changes or income disruptions. An encouraging note of support can give them new hope and a positive outlook. Strengthening your relationships with those around you will increase your (and their) feelings of gratitude. 


Perform Acts of Kindness

Recognizing that everyone has been in the same boat of uncertainty and loneliness this year, can help us gain perspective about the humans around us. Look for ways to perform random acts of kindness for those in your community. Some ideas include, volunteering at a food bank, donating clothes to homeless veterans, purchasing toys for low income children through the Christmas Angel project, or dropping off a hot meal for your elderly neighbor. Reaching out in these ways demonstrates your care and support for those in need. As you serve others with kindness, you connect with the human condition, elevating your sense of gratitude.


Keep Consistent With Traditions

This holiday season may look very different from the usual family gatherings you’re used to. Yearly traditions may be tempting to let slide during a quieter holiday, but we encourage you to maintain what makes this season bright. If a tradition warms your heart and reminds you of happy memories then keep it alive this year. Bring the Christmas tree down from the attic and proudly display memorable ornaments. Bake that apple pie your grandmother passed down to you. Decorate the house with familiarities of the season and keep your Christmas playlist on shuffle. Keep in contact with friends and family over video chat or distanced visits in the backyard. Get creative with ways to involve the family in the usual traditions, even if that means caroling on group chat! Maintaining the traditions that build love, warmth, and togetherness will increase gratitude and feelings of peace.


Be Present 

Life stress and uncertainties can distract you from what’s happening in the now. Being distracted by your own thoughts and worries robs you from fully appreciating new ideas, important conversations, family dinners, and celebrated milestones. These are priceless moments that won’t come around again in the same way. Show your gratitude by being present in all moments, large and small. Invest yourself in what’s important to others, and allow others inside your world. Remain attentive in conversation, share your skills and experience, and show up for your spouse, children, friends, and coworkers. Those in your sphere recognize when you’re checked-out and it will impact your relationship over time. Further, what may seem of small significance for you might be a significant turning point for others. Decide to be present in your life and in the lives of others. People will take notice, show appreciation, and share in your gratitude. 


I’m betting that the nation, and indeed the whole world, would lift their voices in unanimous agreement when I say that 2020 has been 12 solid months of pain, politics, isolation, and overall crisis. As the TV personalities, news anchors, comedians, and social media users present their summary of the years’ events, be sure to buffer the bleak comments with self-reminders of gratitude and thankfulness. There is always room for gratitude for everything that we do have without focusing on the losses. This is what we need to hold onto as we enter the new year. To keep the faith, share our blessings, and create a better tomorrow. 


From everyone at Healthy Connections, we wish you a very blessed, less-stressed Christmas, and a positively-focused New Year!