Too often feelings of gratitude are not associated with the holidays, but more like ultimate stress and worry. The mixed bag of pleasure and pain seems to creep in earlier and earlier every year.  There are those people who put up their Christmas Tree November first and start listening to Christmas music in October. However, when reminded how many more days there are until the holidays, there is an overwhelming voice of alarm and concern.  

The Holiday Frenzy

Many people hate to be reminded that they “should” feel grateful.  As a result, the feelings of guilt and wanting to be left alone take over. A whopping 71% of Americans say the holidays cause them stress.  Three out of five Americans say they’d rather do something else than reflect on what they’re thankful for on Thanksgiving.  Top activities included  the following: watching football, streaming media, reading a book or even quality time with a pet. Despite the poll, 92% of Americans feel the holidays are a time to show appreciation to family and friends.  Yet confessions show that one in five would rather spend time on their smart phones than have a meaningful conversation with family members (Morin, 2015).

I hear many of my clients express their frustrations with the holidays that often sound like this, “There is too much food. Everywhere I turn there are goodies, or people bringing me goodies, I hate it!”  “I wish I could just fast forward through the holidays. There is nothing joyful about them to me because I am scared I will put on weight.” Another will state, “We are going out of town, and I will have to dine out with my family and there is no way to manage my intake the way I can at home.  Plus, all eyes will be on me to make sure I eat! I am not even sure I will be able to exercise—argh!”

When alarming fears take over, the last thing you want to do is to express your gratitude. The idea of feeling joy during the holidays is therefore overshadowed with extreme anxiety and overwhelming worries.

Joy & Gratitude

Dr. Brene Brown has done some extensive studies on the relationship between joy and gratitude (Brown, 2012). It was a study over a 12-year period with 11,000 data points. Brown found that people who truly practice gratitude in their lives have greater joy and satisfaction. She was amazed with the evidence that supported the results. She stated that these individuals were not just changing their attitude towards gratitude, but really looking for opportunities to see gratitude and feel appreciation. There is a great quote by a Jesuit priest that states, “It is not joy that makes us grateful but it’s gratitude that makes us joyful” (Brown, 2012).

I love the idea that gratitude is a state of appreciation that helps us be present.  It helps us slow down and lift our eyes and truly see the things that matter most. Gratitude helps us have happy thoughts and feeds our soul. Many times during the holidays I myself get caught up in getting the house decorated, finding the perfect gifts, or cooking big holiday meals that I miss the reason for the season all together. I lose focus, and often miss those small moments that are tender and joyous. This year I have made a resolution to have a gratitude-filled approach to the holidays despite the hustle and bustle.

Grateful Photos

I love the idea of capturing pictures each day that represent what you are grateful for. Hailey Bartholomew presented a TED Talk in which she discussed her project of capturing a photo for each day of her life (Bartholomew, 2014).  She expresses how it helps her to recapture the memory and the feelings associated with the photo. Bartholomew expresses how this project has brought her out of a deep depression and allowed her to finally see the things she was unable to see for so many years before.

I am in no way a photographer, but my phone does an okay job. I also know there are apps that will organize photos into photo albums.  This experiment will help me find the positive and capture it. Lately, all my pictures have been of my kiddos (who I am extremely grateful for) and rites of passage. I am excited to practice opening my eyes of gratitude with the help of my camera. To put together a visual aid of reminders of what really matters will be a treasure for me not just for the holiday season, but for all year long.

Gratitude Journal

Recording your thanks in your mind may feel like you are just adding more to the “to do list” and it seems really too small of an idea to really make a difference.  Honestly, it is the small things that we do each day that lead to great things. I believe that allowing ourselves to pay attention is just one way we can make life sweeter and bring true joy.

Recording three things you noticed or experienced is a very simple exercise, but a habit that will help you direct your eyes toward a positive direction.  You will notice a shift in your thinking from fearful anxiety to the calm of the present moment.   It could be as simple as being thankful for air conditioning, or as meaningful as a homecoming hug. Each time you find yourself overwhelmed with disappointment or stress, gently guide yourself back to the simple things you are grateful for. It helps to also display them where you are likely to see them daily. This visual aid will be a kind reminder of how you desire to feel this holiday season.

Table Talk

gatherDinner time chat often can get carried away with facts and events of the day. Many times it can also include failures, critical judgements and utter gossip.
Approaching dinner at the table with a gracious heart is another notable habit to start. Dr. Brene Brown shared that she and her husband started this tradition after grace at their dinner table. She found it was a great way to truly see what mattered to her husband and children (Brown, 2012).

Dr. Brown proclaimed that making this a ritual for her family has blessed them tremendously. She believes gratitude is the birth place of joy. I know that for many of my clients, true joy is not found at the dinner table—especially the Thanksgiving feast, but it will at least be a positive distraction to lessen the grips of fear.

My hope for you is that you will see gratitude as a “superpower” that will help you escape from the debilitating grip of anxiety that often accompany the holidays.Wishing you a holiday season filled with gratitude and joy, no matter what!


Bartholomew, Hailey. [TEDx Talks]. (2014, September 9). 365 grateful project. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/zaufonUBjoQ.

Brown, Brene [UMNCSH]. (2012, November 28). Brene Brown on joy and gratitude. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/2IjSHUc7TXM.

Morin, Amy. (2015, November 21). Survey reveals surprising reasons why americans aren’t likely to be thankful this Thanksgiving. Forbes. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2015/11/21/survey-reveals-surprising-reasons-why-americans-arent-likely-to-be-thankful-this-thanksgiving/#7fc3feae422d.