Gratitude Exercises for Thanksgiving and The Holiday Season

Gratitude Exercises For The Stress Of Holiday Gatherings

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There are many ways to cultivate gratitude during the holiday season--and many reasons. Carlina Teteris/Getty Images

Thanksgiving presents us with a great opportunity to increase our feelings of gratitude about everything in our lives. This is wonderful for our stress levels as well as our relationships, our life satisfaction, and our overall health. (Read about the benefits of gratitude to learn more about why.) The focus on gratitude that surrounds Thanksgiving is particularly good for us because it reminds us of how easy it is to increase our feelings of gratitude about everything we have, making it easier to feel that we have “enough” when faced with the barrage of marketing that starts before Black Friday and continues through the new year.

Actively cultivating gratitude can also help with other things related to the holidays, such as dealing with “difficult” family and friends during gatherings, managing travel stress, or handling loneliness or winter blues that sometimes fall during the holiday season. Below are some gratitude-building exercises that can help you through holiday challenges and give you greater feelings of joy and satisfaction in the new year.

Maintain A Gratitude Journal Before You Face Challenges

I’m a big proponent of gratitude journaling for good reason. When you maintain a gratitude journal regularly, you receive an emotional boost from each writing session, but as it becomes habit, you tend to notice the things in your life that you have to be grateful for, things that you may normally overlook. (This may be because you have more practice with gratitude overall, or it could be simply that you know you will need fodder to write about that night.

Either way, it’s a benefit.)

Maintaining a gratitude journal long-term can shift your mindset to a more positive one, which can help with stress relief. (Read about the benefits of a positive attitude.) However, you don’t need to keep a journal for months before you see emotional gains from the practice; journaling for a few days—even once—can help you to  get into the right mindset to be more resilient to the stress of a holiday gathering or to meet other challenges you anticipate in your life.

Here are some tips to help you to get the most of a gratitude journaling practice.

Use Gratitude In Social Media

Many people like to tweet or post what they are grateful for during November, and this is a practice I love to see. Sharing what you appreciate about your life can help your friends enjoy these things as well, and can help you all maintain a more positive attitude in general. This is something to keep in mind as you visit family for Thanksgiving, face the crowds for holiday shopping, and participate in the many activities of the holiday season that make this time of year special but also put a strain on schedules, budgets, and attitudes. Just try to avoid falling into the social comparison trap, and be sure you mix in some other topics as well for balance.

Remember What You Love About People Who Cause Friction

When we visit our families during the holiday season, we often encounter more stress than we anticipated. Family gatherings can be stressful for several reasons: the strain of travel, the difficulty of a large group of hungry people gathering in a small space for a long period of time, the possibility of past unresolved issues coming up in conversation, and the work of putting on a feast, to name a few.

(And this doesn’t include the stresses of gift-giving that come in December.)

If you find yourself feeling friction between yourself and another friend or family member at a holiday gathering, remember that this is more common than you may realize, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t love your family. Remember, also, that gratitude can help you to feel more connected with these hungry, possibly grouchy people around you. If you feel conflict, think about one or two things that you love about this person or positive experiences you’ve shared with them in the past; get in touch with your feelings of gratitude for this person. If you have long-standing issues with this person, this exercise can help, as can these tips on how to deal with difficult people and unresolved family conflict.

Make Gratitude A Group Exercise

As long as you’re thinking of what you appreciate about those around you, why not share your gratitude with the rest of the group and spread the feelings of goodwill? You can casually share some positive memories about those around you or talk about what you appreciate about them, and let the rest of the group join in naturally, or you can ask people specifically if they want to go around the room and take turns sharing positive memories with the group. Either way, this can spread feelings of love and gratitude, and possibly even create a tradition that everyone enjoys.

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