While the holidays are an occasion to celebrate, for many people this time of year can also feel sad or stressful. If your outlook is less than jolly, I’ve found something that can immensely improve your mindset and help you feel better.
Researchers call gratitude “the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.” Not surprisingly, many studies connect gratitude with a sense of overall well-being.
Practicing gratitude can reduce mental conditions like depression and anxiety, lower your risk for disease, and flood your brain with feel-good chemicals like serotonin.
Those are among the reasons I practice gratitude daily. Especially as this holiday season unfolds and the year comes to a close, I find maintaining a gratitude practice crucial for keeping a steady calm and happiness amidst the sometimes-chaotic season. Here are 5 ways to do just that:
- Write it down. Researchers find a gratitude journal can improve overall well-being and improve conditions like depression. I find pen and paper makes the best way to offer gratitude, though you might choose a gratitude app on your phone. You can do this first thing in the morning to set the day’s tone or before bed as a way to reflect on the good things that are happening in your life. I keep a nice journal by my bed and reflect on what I’m grateful for before bedtime. It calms me down and helps me sleep better.
- Reach out and thank someone. We all have people who in some way made our lives better. Make a phone call or write a letter and let that person know how much they mean to you. It will make both your days better.
- Give. Studies show altruistic people have greater well-being, health, and longevity. You don’t need to give a physical gift to get those feel-good benefits. Support your favorite charity. Volunteer at one of your favorite organizations. Even helping a neighbor or loved one with something simple like grocery shopping can boost your happiness and theirs.
- Before meals. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full. The practice of slow, mindful eating—really being aware of and enjoying your meals—s a powerful way to better enjoy your food, lose weight, improve your metabolism, and cultivate gratitude.
- “Take Five.” I use this simple practice before a meal or any time I’m feeling stressed out. This simple one-minute technique will lower your stress hormones and help you better metabolize your food. Take 5 breaths in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Slowly count to 5 on each in-breath and again on each out-breath.
I’m especially grateful this time of year for my valued patients and readers who make my work and life so meaningful and fulfilled. What do you feel grateful for?
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD