Most of us are willing to stay up late, work overtime and stretch the family budget for our kids. We stress ourselves out searching, shopping and planning for the gifts that we hope bring joy and happiness for our family. In addition, we develop expectations that often exceed the realm of what is possible and then feel frustrated and disappointed.
And guess what? That’s not all. For many of us, we throw in a good dose of “shoulds.”—”I should have written more cards”; “I should have finished the shopping by now”;”my kids should be more grateful”; “I should be happier during the holidays.”
Why gratitude works to solve many holiday woes
Gratitude is a sort of immunization to stressful thinking that our minds tend to create. It does this through a simple re-focusing. Rather than putting attention of what’s missing or lacking in our lives, we focus on what gifts we have been given. If we do this rather obsessively, we find that the notion of gratitude goes beyond an idea—and turns into a feeling that lives in our hearts and minds.
This is actually quite amazing as it is impossible to feel sad, lacking or even stressed when consumed with the sense of gratitude. We cannot have two opposite emotions at the same time. Think of it this way: You can’t be taking a cold shower if you are enjoying a warm, luscious shower. So why not “bathe” in the shower of gratitude this season?
The simple gratitude formula be grateful when you don’t feel grateful
Many of us talk about gratitude. And for many, it’s just talk. We are seldom “walking our talk.”
Yet, this is often understandable as we simply don’t feel much gratitude. Consider the crazy traffic, the wrong gift that must be returned, the rude clerk at checkout and the cold fast food. All this adds up to absorb our emotions.
There is another option that offers ease and enjoyment, but we recognize the need for a personal stretch. What do I mean? The pressures, the conditioning of our society and the history we have experienced all push us to focus on what is missing or lacking or bugging us. Emotions of frustration, disappointment and anxiety take over and there seems to be little room for gratitude. Many of us find ourselves waiting to feel that grateful moment. We let our minds continue on the loop of anxiety and frustration and never take charge of our thoughts. We then become a victim of our circumstances, awaiting life to give us those grateful feelings. Often, this leaves us severely lacking in the joy we seek.
What is the other option? It is choosing to seek gratitude EVEN when you aren’t feeling it. In fact, this is the most important step in having a grateful life. Do not wait for life to deliver the perfect moment or you will have many dry spells lacking in gratitude and joy. Instead, make it your mission today, and every day, to keep finding moments to discover gratitude despite whatever is happening in your life.
‘But how do I find gratitude when I don’t feel it?’
This is the obvious question. Right? So let’s jump into it. It’s often easy to be grateful for the big stuff. That just doesn’t happen 20 times a day, and it’s not enough to overcome the momentum of a stressful day filled with dozens and dozens of stressful thoughts. We must overcome the impact of that onslaught of negativity and stress with a simple strategy.
Obsess, obsess and obsess even more—on small moments of gratitude
Every day, nurture the intention to find gratitude in the small moments. Seek it in the softness of another’s smile, in the sparkle that flows from a fire, from the enthusiasm in your child’s eyes, or even the warmth of that shower. There are so many easeful gifts in our lives that we take for granted in all that surrounds us, and the true magic is available to all of us with just the intention to find those gifts. If you turn on your creative mind, you will find countless ways to express an internal voice that says “how sweet, how wonderful—thank you.” At times, even what we resist can be turned around and we can find a way to discover gratitude.
Develop the habit to complain ONLY to the listener in the mirror
Rather than complaining to friends, colleagues or your loved one, give everyone a break this season. Take all your complaints and tell them to the person in the mirror. Then, notice how utterly boring and exhausting that becomes. Ask your kids to do the same. If complaints arise, just point them to the mirror—and see how interested they are in ranting on and on. Everyone can benefit from accepting the absence of value in these holiday complaints.
If you do this a few times, you will laugh. So will your kids. That’s okay. Instead, just turn to gratitude and be grateful for that moment of levity and return to enjoying your family, rather than complaining about traffic.
It has been a pleasure to share my ideas with you this again this year. I am grateful to Capital Region Living for allowing me this space in your life. Happy holidays!
Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit www.TerrificParenting.com.