"I'm thankful for this food. Next?"
Everyone who has sat down to a holiday meal has heard some variation on this expression of gratitude. By the time you've done the elaborate meal prep and dealt with the frustrating family squabbles, you may not feel like giving thanks. So this year, start early and give the pursuit of gratitude more of your intention and attention. After all, expressing thankfulness is not only good for the soul, it's been proven to help reduce stress and even decrease the risk of heart disease.
1. Write it down.
Researchers who study gratitude often ask participants to keep journals where they write about things for which they're grateful. This practice requires you to be thoughtful and focused on your blessings, and having a written record allows you to reflect on all those good things over and over again.
Try keeping a gratitude journal leading up to the holiday season. Each day, list a few things that you feel thankful for, including big things like good health and small things like delicious coffee.
2. Pay it forward.
Put positive energy into the world, using your gratitude journal as inspiration. Look at some of the things you're thankful for and find ways to share that joy with others. Love your coffee? Pay for the cup of the person in line behind you. If you're grateful for your child's wonderful teacher, send her the gift of art supplies for the classroom. Share your gratitude for your healthy dog by making a donation to an animal shelter in Fido's name.
3. Say 'thank you'.
What is gratitude? Sometimes it's as simple as saying thank you. Send out one gratitude note every day before the holidays. You can write notes to people who have done big things (the parents who raised you) or people who have done small things (the neighbor who collected your mail during your vacation). Explain why you're grateful for the person and what impact he or she has made in your life.
4. Use your time.
Take on a pet project this holiday season. Reach out to your friends to ask if anyone knows of someone who needs help this holiday season. You might find out about a family who is struggling to pay for heat or a senior citizen who has nowhere to go for the holidays. In addition to donating money, you can help by researching local organizations that can provide long-term services or by volunteering your time to keep lonely seniors company.
However you practice gratitude this holiday season, know that you are not only improving your own well-being, but those around you too!