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  • Writer's pictureDr. Beth Marnix

Gratitude and the Holidays

Updated: May 23

5 Tips to jump start your gratitude practice

Have you noticed it? Black Friday sales started happening WAY before Black Friday...does this happen every year? I can’t remember. But I do know that the winter holidays come with a lot of traditions we look forward to every year AND a lot of STRESS and PRESSURE to do everything - be everything - see everything - and spend spend spend. Whether you’re someone who plans for the winter holidays year-round, or you’re a last-minute present purchaser, chances are, you inevitably get swept up in the chaos of the Holiday season… I mean… It is easy to do.

Between scheduling busyness, family demands, financial responsibilities, and the never-ending commercialization of happiness, it can be tough to sit back and be thankful for all that you have already.

However, research has shown time and time again that a spirit of gratitude is associated with deeper sleep, better physical and emotional health, and an increase in kindness toward others.

Wait… you might be asking yourself… What is gratitude?

Briefly - Gratitude is pausing to notice and acknowledge what is good in our lives and that this good is outside of us. When we engage in gratitude, we may acknowledge people in our lives that we are grateful for, notice small things that bring us joy, or express thanks to someone for what they have contributed to our lives. Gratitude is acknowledging the big things, I am grateful for my health, and it is acknowledging the small things, I am grateful I have warm food on a cold night. Gratitude is pausing and noticing what we take for granted. By engaging in a practice of gratitude on a consistent basis you will find a boost to your mood, a connection to others, and a decrease in the impact of stress.

Why Is It So Hard To Be Thankful During The Holidays?

couple walking down the street in winter clothing

Right before the winter holidays - Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice (and more) comes Thanksgiving. It’s the day that people in America have chosen to gather around the table to enjoy (and maybe over indulge) in enormous amounts of food. Many families link this feast with a time to be thankful, grateful, and appreciative. (Families also acknowledge the truths surrounding the history of Thanksgiving and engage in actions to uplift Native Americans).

However, for many people, the winter holiday season has already started and they might be feeling less thankful than they did all year.

This leaves us with the question: why is it so hard to be grateful during the holidays?

One reason…You’re Going Through a Hard Time:

Especially in a world post-pandemic (still pandemic?) where we are grappling with social concerns, inflation, and where many people’s lives have been turned upside down, you may be finding yourself asking questions such as:

“How can I be thankful when I’ve lost my job?”

“I can’t show gratitude when my needs aren’t met.”

“How can I be thankful when my marriage is struggling?”

“What do I have to be grateful for when I’m spending the holidays alone?”

It’s okay to feel this way. Let’s face it: life is HARD. Sometimes we walk through seasons where being grateful feels like the farthest thing from your mind, and there is no way you could feel thankful for anything - everything is just bad right now. This simply means you’re human.

Not every holiday season is going to be merry and bright. Take heart. This, too, is normal.

We all have something to be grateful for.

person in winter coat looking at holiday lights

So… between holiday festivals, cookie baking, games, snowman building, food preparations, loved ones, present wrapping, ranch on the branch, and Black Friday shopping, how do you take a break and avoid getting swept up in a materialistic mindset or super overwhelmed and stressed out?

5 Tips To Help Jump Start your Gratitude Practice this Holiday Season

Here are 5 ideas to create a spirit of gratefulness this holiday season. And - while you are at it - as we inch closer to a new year - maybe this practice of gratitude can be carried forth!

1. Start Gratitude Journal

Each day, spend a few moments reflecting on your day. Write down at least 3 things you are grateful for. Does not matter how big, how small, or how silly they are

two women of color sitting outside and talking

2. Express to Others how you are Grateful for Them

Take a moment to pause, at least one time a week, and show appreciation and recognition for the people in your life who have provided kindness, joy, help, gifts, or support to you. You can share your gratitude for your friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances in many different ways. Maybe it is through a phone call, a text message, a card, written letter, or face to face. It is important to not assume that others know how you feel about them and their contribution to your life.. Take the time to express your gratitude for them.

3. Volunteer

man serving soup as a volunteer

By focusing your energy outwards through volunteering your time and energy you will feel a sense of connection to others and to a larger purpose. You may also realize that others are also struggling, and there are people, experiences, and things to feel thankful for.

4. Focus on This Moment

We just talked about the busyness and chaos of the holidays. With this probably comes lots of thinking, worrying, stressing, and planning ahead… probably not a lot of being present here and now. Pause. What are you noticing right now? Where are you? Who is with you? What are you grateful for right now? Notice that thought… that the meal is not exactly how you imagined, or your social gatherings are disappointing. Now… What are you grateful for? Are you grateful to be able to spend time with your family? Are you grateful that others are laughing and having a good time?

5. Notice and Express Gratefulness for Experiences rather than Materialistic Stuff

woman of color joyfully dancing

It is ok to feel grateful for things - stuff - to be grateful you have a car to get you to work, that you have a phone to stay connected to others (or IG), that your moisturizer makes you feel soft and dewy. In addition to being grateful for stuff and things, focus on the experiences. Pay attention, in the moment, to what is happening. What is positive? Rewarding? What is bringing you joy? Really focus on this experience, what you like about it, and why you are grateful for it.

By engaging in a practice of gratitude on a consistent basis you will find a boost to your mood, a connection to others, and a decrease in the impact of stress.

We All Have Something To Be Grateful For

Would you trade all your possessions in the world if it meant you gained a few more hours with those you love the most? Many of us would. Why? Because at the end of the day, things are just things.

By no means should you turn into the Grinch and snatch all gifts away from the holiday season, however taking time to sit back and reflect on what you already own is a great way to enter into this time with a thankful heart.

We all have something to be grateful for. Do our homes look exactly like the white-washed Instagram influencers do? Maybe not.

However, at the end of the day, we have far more to be thankful for than we may even realize. Take this time at the end of the year to reflect on what good has happened this year, how others have provided and helped us, and how do you want to notice and express gratitude from this moment forward.

Dr Beth Marnix in maroon shirt



Our content is on and related to the topic of mental health. The content is general information that may or may not apply to you. The content is not a substitute for professional services. This website does not contain professional advice, nor is any professional-client relationship established with you through your use of this website.


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