There’s lots to say about gratitude. I could tell you how it’s one of the strengths most connected with happiness, how gratitude comes with many physical and mental health benefits, or comment on how it’s a critical pathway to a meaningful life. But that would be a bit boring. Instead, here are some gratitude Do’s and Don’ts for you to consider this holiday season.
- Be thankful from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm on Thursday. If you’re planning to be thankful for one day this year and then quit, don’t bother. It feels a bit like the guy who walks out of church on Sunday and starts cursing at the weather for being too cold and then yells at other drivers who are going too slow.
- Wait for Thursday. If you think that Thanksgiving will be your catalyst to a whole new approach on gratitude, think again. It’s unlikely that your holiday with family drama, stress with the in-laws, and excessive food and alcohol intake will lead you to new, exciting, and stable patterns of well-being.
- Gorge with gratitude. Eating an enormous amount of food is not a gratitude practice. Gratitude is a virtue, not the vice of gluttony. Gratitude is the opposite of gluttony, as it’s about appreciating the little things and being thankful for simplicity, and does not revolve around behaviors of gathering and consuming.
- Skip engagement. Many times people will say “I just need to get through the holidays” or “I can’t wait till it’s over” or “I don’t want to have to deal with Uncle Larry.” Focusing on the holiday stress or what you don’t like will block you from learning and from engaging in important experiences and conversations. Ironically, it will make the time last longer. The best approach is to dive in and engage.
- Forget your strengths. No matter what your plans are for the holidays, be conscious about your signature strengths—those most central to who you are. Make a plan for how you will use your strengths through potentially difficult encounters.
- Subtract one good thing. If you’re interested in boosting gratitude, start by taking something away (in your mind). Researchers refer to this as mental subtraction and it’s a way to boost appreciation for what matters most in your life. Imagine your life without your favorite relative, without having a place to go to celebrate the holiday, or without the ability to feed yourself. Reflect on your life without that person or experience for a moment. How would that feel?
- Focus on a “little thing” and savor it completely. Researchers have found that the science of savoring is an important well-being and gratitude booster. For example, bring your attention to the smile of a family member or to one bite of turkey or stuffing. Notice the details, absorb yourself in the feel-good sensations. Savoring is about elongating the positive experience.
- Name three blessings each night. At the end of each day this week—and NOT only on Thanksgiving Day—reflect on your day and name three things that happened during the day that you are grateful for. Researchers have consistently found this boosts happiness and decreases depression in the long-term.
- Say what you mean. If you’re like me, you’ll probably say “Happy Thanksgiving” 50 times over the next week. How many of those times will you be “present” versus merely saying the words in an automatic, mindless way? How many times will you say it with meaning and heart? This is the practice of mindful speech. Focus on the words as you say them. Think about the meaning of what you are saying—are you offering the other person a wish to be happy, an intention for them to be grateful and complete?
- Express appreciation for others’ strengths. The science of appreciation—especially appreciation of the strengths of those close to you—is a hot topic that comes with many benefits for yourself and your relationship.
I hope this list either enhances your already meaningful relationships or acts as a survival guide for those of you heading into a stress zone.
Don’t miss next week’s online Positive Psychology Hour: Gratitude—the Queen of All Virtues: A Deeper Dive, with Nancy Kirsner, PhD, TEP, OTR, on Tuesday, November 22, at 12:00 pm ET.
This post was reprinted from PsychologyToday.com.
Ryan M. Niemiec PsyD
Ryan M. Niemiec PsyD, education director of the VIA Institute on Character, develops VIA’s courses, reports, and programs, and helps professionals around the world apply character strengths personally and professionally. He is the author of Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing (with 10-track CD) and co-author of Positive Psychology at the Movies and Movies and Mental Illness. Ryan is an award-winning psychologist, certified health coach, international workshop leader, and faculty member for Xavier University in Cincinnati and the University of Pennsylvania. He is the creator of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), the first structured program for building character strengths, and an adapted MBSP for a track on the web/app-based platform Happify, called “Awaken Your Potential.”