The holidays can be a very enjoyable, rewarding time. Usually spent with friends and family, it is a time of year that we focus on what we are thankful for. Unfortunately, the holidays can also be a time of great stress for many families. For many, the financial burden of hosting dinners, traveling to see loved ones, and or buying presents, can be very burdensome. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday stresses and lose sight of what we are truly grateful for.
Luckily, being a more grateful, happier person is largely within our control. According to Psychology Today, approximately 40% of our happiness comes from perspective. Since happiness is relative to perspective, there are ways you can change your behaviors in order to be more grateful this holiday season.
Recognize What You Already Have
It’s not that happy people have so much more money or less stress than unhappy people; it’s that they are able to recognize, acknowledge, and be thankful for what they already have on a daily basis. This is a continuous practice. As you practice more and more, you will see how gratitude can strengthen relationships, improve health, reduce stress, and, in general, make you feel happier.
Start a gratitude journal or get in the habit of beginning or ending each day acknowledging (bringing into your mind) several things you are grateful for. Gratitude puts situations into perspective. It helps you realize what you have and, therefore, lessens our need for wanting more all the time (more of anything, e.g. physical needs, emotional needs, material desires).
What Does the Science Tell Us?
Research has shown that practicing gratitude for only 5 minutes each day is associated with increased time spent exercising, increased overall life satisfaction, and increased amounts of happiness in addition to decreased instances of depression and headache occurrences. Those who practice gratitude are also more likely to have positive social relationships and physical health, especially regarding stress and sleep. Sleep quality and quantity and sleep latency (time to fall asleep) are all positively affected by gratitude.
The results of another research study also demonstrated the effects of positive thinking and gratitude. As a part of the study, participants were asked to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
It easy to see how simply shifting your thoughts from things you are unhappy about to thoughts of the things you are thankful for can have a significant positive impact. The reason why we call it “practicing gratitude” is because there is no right or wrong way to do it. Simply try to think of what you are grateful for each day. Writing it down with pen and paper or using a gratitude app are both great ways to accomplish this.