Tis the Season to Want

Truth be told, my field (counseling, relationships, psychology) isn’t quite as scientific as it sometimes presents itself to be. I often think of counseling and psychology as ‘applied philosophy.’ That being said, the field has improved it’s testing methods over the last decades and there are a number of areas where solid research is emerging. One of those is in the area of gratitude.

In the field of positive psychology gratitude is very strongly associated with overall greater happiness. Gratitude has been correlated with experiencing increased positive emotions, effective coping with life’s challenges, improved health, and strengthened relationships.

We are in a difficult season right now. The current political climate has created agitation and unhappiness among many of us. This is overlaid on the holiday season, which is also a season of stress. While we may enjoy Christmas music, holiday lights, good food and family gatherings, we may also get overwhelmed by repetitive Christmas music, blinking holiday lights, too much food, and stressful family gatherings.

As an example of the working being done in gratitude, one research study divided the participants into three groups. The first group wrote about things during their week that they felt grateful for. The second group was told to focus their journaling on things that frustrated them. The third group also journaled, but with no assigned focus. The exercise went on for 10 weeks. Perhaps you won’t be surprised that at the end of the study the group members who wrote about gratitude were found to be more optimistic and feeling better about their lives. But there is more: they also exercised more the than other participants, and also had fewer visits to physicians.

Another measured impact is on relationships. In a study of couples, those who intentionally expressed gratitude toward their partner ended up feeling better about the other person, and also had the added benefit of being more comfortable sharing relationship concerns.

We find ourselves entering the season of wanting. Christmas lists, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and advertisers hoping to make you feel better by getting you to spend your money at their store. Perhaps spending isn’t the best way to feel better. Here are some suggestions for turning this season into a season of gratitude.

Gratitude Letters: This Thanksgiving and Christmas write gratitude letters to individuals who have had positive impact in your life. It might be years ago and long due, or maybe recently. Give them the gift of a thank-you for investing in you.

Give-away-gifts: Studies have found that people who were given cash to spend on themselves ended up less happy than people who were given cash to give away. Give family members cash with the assignment to give it away, and then share with you they story of how they used it.

Family Meals: Have each person share something from the day that they were grateful for.

Gratitude Journal: Record something from each day that was a gift to you, a kindness from someone, a joy shared, something that brightened your outlook.

Meditation and Prayer: Research has show that mediation and pray on the things we are grateful for have numerous positive impacts in our lives.

This holiday season can be your most grateful ever. Give it a try, give yourself and your loved ones the gift of gratitude.   This holiday season may end up being your happiest!

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