Gratitude Can Conquer Seasonal Stress

The year-end holidays are here, a time to be young at heart, carefree, generous, and jolly. This is probably true in the best of all possible worlds – but who lives there? The truth is that a lot of folks begin to dread the festive season as soon as Halloween rolls around.

Families that are less than fully functional often hold unrealistic expectations and express consequential disappointments when those imagined heights aren’t reached. Let’s say you accidentally burned the sweet potato pie. In a “normal” family, the incident would probably be laughed off as just one of those bad things that happens to good people.

But in a dysfunctional family, ruining a dish can turn nightmarish immediately: “You did WHAT?!? How COULD you?!? Can’t you do ANYTHING RIGHT?????”

At this point, Dear Reader, you know who you are and where you come from. If you can’t relate to rejection by your parents and peers, truly you are blessed. For the rest of us, welcome to the harsh reality that part and parcel of the holidays is pretty much being forced to mingle with negatively critical, unsupportive relatives.

How to cope? Replace stress with gratitude.

The ability to see the positive lemonade when life hands you lemons is a skill best learned young. But it’s never too late to start cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude.

This isn’t just feel-good, New Agey Pollyanna talk. The brain is a muscle and all muscles in the body can be strengthened with regular practice. Emotional resilience and optimism are states of being that can be achieved – but it does take effort.

The secret is to train your conscious awareness focus repeatedly (as often as possible) on the good things in your existence, no matter how small they may seem. Seek out your daily blessings and express genuinely sincere thanks to those who help you.

Developing a greater appreciation for what you have rather than disappointment for what you lack isn’t as hard as it may sound when you break it down into easy steps.

Each year, Reverand Taylor Stevens inspires his Unity Church of the Palm Beaches congregation in West Palm Beach, Florida, to find the good in “Be good for goodness’ sake,” with the following month-long Grat-I-Challenge:

  1. Begin each day with a heart-felt ‘THANK YOU’ before you even get out of bed.
  2. Keep a daily Gratitude Journal, listing at least three things to be included in your thankfulness, as early in the day as possible. To raise your thanksgiving vibration, even more, list three things in the morning and three things in the evening: write them down!
  3. Take an action each day of the month that directly expresses your gratitude to another person. This could be a call, a card, an e-mail; be creative!
  4. Take a concrete action sometime during the month that represents an act of self-appreciation. Schedule a date with yourself, buy yourself flowers, have a massage: make it a conscious act of self-appreciation and gratefulness for who you are.
  5. Make a donation to an organization that holds meaning for you in your own name. To amp it up, make another donation in someone else’s name to which you feel much gratitude. This could be monetary or an act of service.
  6. Actively look for opportunities throughout the day to express gratitude to all people, natural phenomena, and situations that you encounter.
  7. Seek the blessing in every challenge that occurs throughout the month. Be grateful in all things! Write it down.

Of course, you don’t need to wait for the first day of the month to start counting your blessings. Why wait? Take a moment and jot down three things right now that you love and cherish about your existence.

If you can’t think of three positive influences in your life, it’s time to look within and figure out how to change the game to your advantage.

One of the best ways to appreciate your personal benefits is to help those less fortunate. Once you get out of your own head and use your mind and body to elevate others, everything changes – and usually, for the better.

Volunteering your time to improve other people’s lives introduces you to new environments and wider social networks. Lending a helping hand is an expression of universal love which can heal extremely deep emotional wounds.

The simple act of writing a note of appreciation takes your mind off yourself and your perceived problems and shifts the focus to someone else who made you feel good or helped out. The result is win-win: both of you feel great.

So, whenever you catch yourself singing the blues and feeling stressed out and sorry for yourself, try counting your blessings, one by one.

Being grateful you are alive and able to help others is the greatest gift on Earth.

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