The holidays… a magical time for some, a miserable time for others. Despite differences in experiences, it is widely agreed upon that the holidays are much more than just a season of events – the holidays are a feeling.

While it is not recommended that you attempt to control your feelings, it is recommended that you take action to be aware of those feelings, improve your mood and uplift the feelings of those around you. After all, isn’t that what spreading the holiday spirit is all about?

Regardless of what feelings the holidays ignite in you, we can all use this time as an opportunity to practice gratitude! When we shift our focus to one of gratitude, we can physically reduce stress levels, improve relationships, increase feelings of satisfaction, and improve overall health!

In a study done by two of the leading psychologists in gratitude research, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, they found that participants who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, those people also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Of course, studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. But, most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.

The Benefits of a Grateful Perspective During the Holidays

The act of gratitude boosts your serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins! This compound is a natural antidepressant/mood lifter making it much easier to get through any unexpected or expected holiday stressors.

Holiday Challenges

The holidays can bring about a wide variety of challenges. From gift giving, relationships, and expectations, to traveling, health, food, finances, and winter blues – this season can easily leave us feeling as though we are lugging around a giant bag of coal. However, with a grateful heart and loving intentions, we can find those magical feelings of holiday joy once again!

A Grateful Mind and Heart

When we think about all the things in life we are grateful for, there is no room left to think about what we do not have. 

Here are some easy ways to train ones brain to think with gratitude first!

  • Mind comparisons – there is always more to it than what meets the eye
  • Write a Thank you note
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Say aloud the names of the people you are grateful for
  • Read helpful, positive books and media (be cautious of your exposure to negative news) 

Our hearts are grateful in nature, all we have to do is open them. 

Here are some easy ways to open your heart: 

  • Listen to your emotions. Stay mindful of your anger and sadness – these are natural emotions, a way for our heart to speak to us. It is our responsibility to listen. 
  • Look for the good – the good feeds our hearts. 
  • Make positivity your daily affirmation. This can be as simple as repeating to yourself, “there is good in the world!”
  • Celebrate your growth as well as your goals – the heart never stops growing!
  • Share with others – the good, the bad, and the festive! Communication is how we connect; connection is necessary to grow in love. 
  • Volunteer. One of the absolute best ways to open your heart.  

With an attitude of gratitude, it is easy to feel as though you have plenty when marketers and ads try to tell you you need more. So, however you decide to spend your holiday season, we hope it is spent in love and gratitude! For loving, sharing, and giving are not something to be put away with the Christmas decorations.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, 

Carmen Keith, MD, IFMCP

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