It is one thing (and an effective thing, at that) to say, share, or write down what we’re grateful for. It helps shift our perspective of what is really important and harnesses our attention to that which ultimately fills our hearts instead of focusing on the things and people that drain our energy. But how do we really practice gratitude on a daily basis, especially during the most simultaneously wonderful and chaotic time of the year?
Being home for the holidays — whether home is our childhood residence, our current place, or somewhere unfamiliar — spans a wide range of physical and mental responses: nostalgia, anxiety, sweetness, exhaustion, excitement. Unchanging yet changed. Comforting yet maybe not quite comfortable.
Home, as we are often told, is where the heart is. If we connect with our hearts then we are always home. If our physical bodies or circumstances feel unpleasant, it can feel rightfully challenging to enjoy being at home, so we figure out ways to escape through consuming drugs or alcohol, constantly being on the go, spending hours looking at a screen instead of inside of our minds — any distraction that helps us withdraw from ourselves and the moment.
Whether we feel grounded and centered or unsteady and uncertain, there are so many things to be grateful for in the moment: a roof over our head, our functioning bodies and minds, people who we love and who love us, our ability to read these words on the screen in front of us. It is a gift in and of itself just to be alert, alive, and able.
With the intention of inspiring our ability to infuse gratitude and lightness into each day — especially in the circus of the holiday season — here are a few practices that have helped me achieve some softness through both content and challenging times.
Enjoy time spent with your community. Family, friends, colleagues, pets. In person, online, in our hearts. Human connection is vital — keep them close and cherish them. Embrace the opportunity to learn more about one another, whether we travel elsewhere or read about new cultures or befriend someone from a different background. Recognize love as the undercurrent.
Support and give thanks to our Mother Earth, especially in the realm of holiday gifting and food consumption. She provides us with everything we need without us asking her to do so. We are so nourished, and we have the tools to nurture her too.
Make the best of and be proud of where you’re at, wherever you’re at. Be where you are at, nowhere else, no rush or force. Even if you are anxious to get out of an undesirable circumstance, do your best to cultivate comfort by focusing your energy and attention on the things you love. Shift your awareness to something or someone that soothes you. When we soften our stress response, we can be more fully present both with ourselves and the ones we’re spending the holidays with, which is a gift in and of itself to everyone involved. There is always an opportunity to learn and grow from our experiences, on our own time, and appreciate the teachers and angels along the way. Miracles can exist in anyone and are everywhere, like the simple fact that we have a choice to travel down a path of continual self-discovery in a (mostly) open-minded, diverse, melting-pot of a country — politics aside — and freely evolve into the human we desire to become.
Allow space to do things that bring you joy. Do your best to be a good companion to yourself. Enjoy being able to do what you want as often as possible, make nourishing meals, watch whatever Netflix shows tickle your fancy, learn something new, listen to a good song, paint or play, stroll outside, or cozy up indoors. Anything goes, as long as it makes you feel good, even if only for a moment, even if you have to gently coerce a squeeze of gratitude out of you.
Surround yourself with people you love. Let your loved ones be there for you in the same way you would like to be there for the ones you care about, whether near or far, present or in our hearts.
Focus on and enjoy what you have versus what you lack. This does not mean pushing aside emotions, but rather bringing the attention as often as possible to the gifts that surround you in the moment, however big or small: the roof over our head, the food in our pantry and bellies, a fond memory — grateful for its imprint and/or lessons. Instead of saving clothing or dinnerware for special occasions — or buying more/excess for that matter — make every day special and use/wear what you have on the regular.
Leave judgment at the door. How we act toward ourselves is how we act toward others, and judgements are a personal perception, anyway — the feelings may be real, but they might not necessarily be true. Feel your feelings and let them teach you, even if they are confusing, then move on with your day. Honor any suffering with a bow instead of shoving your emotions in a proverbial closet, where they will inevitably tumble out to lay one on you.
Be unspeakably kind (thank you Elizabeth Gilbert for this gold nugget). Give and receive without expectation: offer a compliment without feeling the need to get one back, hold the door open for someone just because. Nothing beats the loving fulfillment that comes from being of service. Offer that kindness to yourself and others — it can be as simple as smiling at a stranger, giving spare change to a person in need, or volunteering somewhere that fulfills you. Serving others is just as nourishing as a healthy meal.
Breathe and move. Whether it is yoga and meditation or walks around the block and a few conscious breaths throughout the day, move the body and remember to breathe easily. Holding our breath blocks the flow of oxygen to our lungs and heart, constricting the body into a ball of stress, leaving no room for tranquility or expansion. Plus, what a gift to have a functioning body, right? Try to enjoy the profound simplicity and calming wave-like motion of our own breath.
Rest. Contrary to the importance of moving your body, rest it when you need, especially during the hullabaloo of the holiday season. Processing emotions alongside running around for seasonal shindigs is exhausting, so honor that and chill if it feels necessary. You will feel more thankful for your health if you give yourself adequate time to heal.
Ask for support from God/Source/Universe/Higher Power. When the stress feels too overwhelming, call on Divine/Buddha/whatever you believe in — don’t be afraid to request that they hold some of that anxiety for you. As you offer gratitude for the relief, trust that the energy flows where the attention goes. When we focus on our heart’s true desires and have faith that they can become a reality, we will worry less about how it will all come into fruition, and so we can cultivate a bit more peace in the process, even if the process itself is challenging.
Ayurvedic practitioner Dr. Pratima Raichur asks us, “How often do we take a moment to say, “I love you, I need you, and I am grateful for you?” If we want to use our physical bodies to stand, walk, achieve, and experience all that life has to offer, then let us treat our bodies as the precious vehicles they are. Every day is a day to be grateful. There is something beautiful and profoundly healing in that.” ‘Nuff said.
Ultimately, the most precious gift we can offer each other is our company, attention, support, and unconditional love. No need to overspend or overbuy — just be present with an open heart and mind.
What are your personal little bits of joy in this moment? What can you do to practice gratitude throughout the holiday season and beyond?