By Nataly Kogan

5 simple, practical ways to infuse gratitude into your holidays

Tags Gratitude

Thanksgiving is here and gratitude is having its annual celebration party. I must have seen a dozen articles just today about the benefits of gratitude. 

I love it, of course, because the more people who learn about the benefits of this simple yet profound practice the better. 

But here’s the thing:

Gratitude is like broccoli.

We all know it’s good for us, but it’s only good for us if we actually practice it. 

Knowing that broccoli is beneficial for your health won’t make you healthier unless you eat it. And knowing that gratitude is good for you won’t make you happier, less stressed, and more resilient – just a few of the benefits of gratitude – unless you practice it.

So I wanted to share with you 5 simple ways to infuse the practice of gratitude into this holiday season. 

If you give it a tiny bit of your time and intention, it will help you find more moments of joy in the busyness of it all and be a source of resilience when you’re challenged – family gatherings, anyone?

1. Bookend Your Days with Gratitude

Begin and end the day by thinking about a few things you’re grateful for. If possible, capture them somehow – jot them down, take a photo, share them with someone – and be as specific as possible. Research shows that frequent positive experiences makes us happier than any huge events, so small things really do count.

By beginning your morning with gratitude, you’re priming yourself for the best day possible and boosting your resilience to help you face whatever challenges come your way. 

And when you end the day with gratitude, you help to reverse your brain’s natural negativity bias, the tendency it has to focus more on the negative than the positive. Your brain is really good at remembering what went wrong during your day but when you practice gratitude, you help it to also remember what went right.

2. Pause for a Thank You

When you say ‘Thank you’ to someone, pause, look them in the eye, and put your heart into it. Express your gratitude with intention through this simple gesture and you’ll be surprised how good you and the recipient feel.

It’s easy to rush through your thank you’s, to say them in half-breath, in passing. We do this with strangers – while getting coffee, for example – and with our friends, families, and colleagues. So this holiday season, put your genuine gratitude into your thank you and do it like you mean it. 

For extra credit, actually tell the other person what you are thanking them for and be specific. Research shows that expressing gratitude to others helps to strengthen our relationships because we begin to view those relationships as supportive and nurturing.

3. Savor It

Make a conscious effort to savor the many experiences you’ll be having this holiday season. You can savor something you eat, see, smell, touch, or hear. 

Begin by taking a deep breath and focusing your attention on what you’re doing. Allow yourself to simply be in the moment. As you eat, watch, or listen, pay attention to all the senses: What do you feel? See? Taste? Smell? Hear? Think of this as taking a mental photo of this moment. 

Finally, when you’re done, feel a sense of gratitude for having experienced it. Think about all the people who made that experience possible – from your aunt who cooked the turkey to the truck driver who got your coffee beans to the store.

(Bonus: When you pause to savor the food you eat, you slow down and actually enjoy it, which often means you stop the impulse to scarf down ten cookies without noticing.)

4. Imagine Life Without This

When something stresses you out, pause and consider, just for a moment, what your life would be like without it? 

Especially at times when I find myself caught up in thinking about how something is not quite right—flight is delayed, garage door is broken, someone in my family is driving me nuts —I remind myself to pause and think: Imagine life without this.

It doesn’t mean you don’t wish that something – or someone – were better, but this simple exercise will help you to feel a sense of gratitude for the many amazing comforts, conveniences, and people that make your life possible, even when they aren’t being perfect (or rather, how you wish they were.)

Our brains are extremely adaptable and it’s easy to take the many blessings that are part of our lives for granted. Thinking about not having them is a wonderful reminder, especially in those moments when you’re lost in frustration.

(Research shows that when we’re stressed, every little annoyance can feel like a big deal, because our brain’s natural negativity bias is more sensitive. So if you’re losing your cool from all the rushing, traveling, organizing, shopping, and dealing with family this holiday season, this practice is your secret weapon.)

5. Write Thank You Notes (or Emails)

Schedule 30 minutes every week during the holidays to write thank you notes or emails to friends, family, or colleagues. You don’t have to write a lot, but it’s important to be specific and tell the person something about them that you appreciate.

It’s easy to assume that people in our lives know we appreciate them. But often, they don’t, and getting a thank you note will be an extremely meaningful to them.

During my keynotes, I ask audience members to email someone they appreciate and tell them why. So many people run up to me afterwards or email me later to say that they were blown away by how much their little email of gratitude meant to the recipient.  

It feels amazing to know that someone appreciates us – and research has shown that when we receive gratitude at work, we experience authentic pride, which makes us more resilient and motivated (leaders, take note!) But it also feels amazing to express gratitude to another person because it reminds you that you have people in your life whom you genuinely appreciate. You feel less alone, more connected, and supported.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t take a lot of time, but it’s one of the most beautiful gifts you can give during this holiday season – to yourself and people you care about.

Next up: 40 lessons in happiness for my younger self

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