Each holiday season comes with expectations of a warm home coming, good food and joyful celebrations. Unfortunately, these cultural assumptions only accentuate what many long for and don’t have.
It’s no secret that struggles with loss, anxiety and depression often increase during “the hap-happiest time of the year.”
Certainly, some of us may need the benefit of professional help over the holidays, but there are many who simply feel down or overwhelmed. What then?
Perhaps the surest way to lift our spirits is to shift our focus from what we don’t have to a heartfelt thanks for what we do.
Harvard Medical School’s Health Publishing says, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
I’ve found this true in my own life. Focusing on what I don’t have only makes me irritable, entitled and selfish. But when I’m grateful for all I do have, I become joyful, humble and generous.
Maybe that’s why Scripture says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Notice the writer, Paul, doesn’t say “give thanks for all circumstances.” Life has too many tragedies for that. But when portions of our lives fall apart, genuine gratitude for the good that remains lightens our load.
Dialing Up Happiness
If you’d like to dial up happiness this holiday season, here are some simple ways to practice gratitude.
- Say “Thank you.” Notice when anyone does some small act of kindness for you, perhaps something they have done a hundred times before without recognition. Look them in the eye and say, “Thank you.” It will change their day…and yours.
- Start a gratitude journal. Write down 5 things for which you are grateful each day. They don’t have to be big. The smell of cinnamon apple tea, a blue sky, warm socks, family pictures, and the beauty of a healthy green plant are more than enough. It’s noticing these little things day after day that resets our hearts to joy.
- Notice God moments. At the end of your day, take a couple minutes to reflect on the moments when you felt closest to God. Perhaps it was during a quiet time or a conversation with a friend. Maybe you felt a consoling peace over a difficult decision or a burst of inspiration that took a project over the finish line. Where in your day did your sense of faith, hope, and love increase? Note that moment. Relive it – and relish it.
- Thank God. God is at work in so many ways in your life right now physically, spiritually, relationally, financially and more. Take a moment at the end or the beginning of your day to thank God for some of them. This is a form of counting your blessings. With a little practice, you will soon see how much your cup overflows. Afterward, thank God for the ways the Holy Spirit is at work in your life that you can’t see yet. Scripture says God has plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Thanking God in advance shows true faith in God’s goodness.
Although the holidays can be hard for many, they can also be happier than in years past. The choice is ours. Whatever our circumstances, when we find a way to give thanks, we give joy a chance.
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