Treasures of the Moment: Mindfulness and Gratitude During the Holidays | Mindfulness Rewrites

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Treasures of the Moment: Mindfulness and Gratitude During the Holidays

     by Dr. Linda Miles
 As you approach the holidays, are you able to pause often and give thanks for small wonders all around you?

Or, are you so preoccupied by the pressure and stress of the holidays that you feel more like a human doing than a human being?

Do you dread being with certain dysfunctional family members over the holidays, and do you allow those feelings to overshadow your plans for celebration?

If stress, anxiety, and worry interfere with your feelings of gratitude, the holidays offer many opportunities to practice gratitude for the gifts of the present moment.

Thornton Wilder wrote, "We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."

Mindfulness practice can help us to be aware of our "treasures," and prepare for the holidays while maintaining a conscious intention to practice gratitude and giving.

Mindfulness Rewrites

Instead of falling into the routine of seeing the holidays as a time of stress, seize this time of year to make positive changes in your life that will only bring you more joy throughout the season and into the new year. Consciously decide to rewrite your thoughts and train your brain so that you can enjoy and celebrate with gratitude, every day.

Robert Emmons is a an expert scientist who studies gratitude. His research is one example of a myriad of evidence showing the benefits of being fully conscious of our treasures by practicing gratitude. His work has shown that a practice of gratitude provides the following benefits:

  • Increased life satisfaction
  • Increased happiness and joy
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Improved the quality of sleep
  • Increased resilience in general

Gratitude is good for the whole family as well. Studies have shown that when children, preteens, and teens practice gratitude they have more positive emotions and feel more connected to others.

Practice

During the holidays, many people in my private practice experience a sense of dread about family gatherings. One young wife named Hillary described how the constant bickering of her in-laws overshadowed her gratitude and celebration during past family gatherings. We made a plan for how she could use mindfulness to focus on gratitude for the blessings around her this season. She made a habit of writing the word "NOW" as a reminder to shift her focus away from bickering and back toward the treasures of the present moment. Here's how we consciously attributed meaning to each letter of the word:

  • "N" stands for NOTICE.

    Hillary set an intention to notice sights, smells, and textures all around her that she was grateful for. She noticed the sight of fall flowers, the smell of cinnamon, the texture of her child’s hand in hers.

  • "O" stands for OPPORTUNITY.

    Hillary set an intention to look for opportunities for gratitude. She deliberately planned to repeat to herself often, I thank God for joy and love and miracles..

  • "W" stands for WITHIN.

    Hillary realized that she was allowing her in-laws' behavior to overrule her inner peace, so we decided she would take time for walks, pay attention to her breathing, and attend to her inner well-being. She practiced dropping within herself to focus on breathing and thinking the word "be" on the in breath and "calm" on the out breath to help her remain centered.

So how can you increase your focus on gratitude during this holiday season?

  • Avoid being judgmental toward yourself and others. We all have our struggles, but begin to train your brain to notice the struggles and move back towards gratitude.

  • Ask your children to tell you three good things that happened during the day, or start a ritual with your spouse before you go to bed, of telling each other at least one thing that you appreciated about them during the day.

  • Imagine your life without your partner as a way to focus on the blessings of their presence.

  • Keep a gratitude journal. The holidays are a great time to begin a journal. There is a user-friendly outline for a gratitude journal online at Thnx4.org

Mindfulness and gratitude are a practice, and they take some work, so expect setbacks. When caught up in the stress and demands of the holidays, you'll find yourself needing to consciously bring your mind back to gratitude. Use the setbacks as opportunities to notice the ways that you wear yourself down with negativity and instead remind yourself of the positive.


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