How To Focus On Gratitude During the Holidays

As someone who values experiences over stuff and things, the holidays can be very overwhelming. My family loves to buy things, and at times it makes me extremely uncomfortable. But I’ve found a way to deal with the overwhelm and frustration and to make me feel inner joy.  Keep reading to find out how focusing on gratitude during the holidays can help you too.

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation towards something or someone specific. It is being thankful for what you have instead of continually seeking out more and more.

What Are the Benefits Of a Gratitude Practice?

There are numerous studies out there that tout the benefits of gratitude. Some of these include:

  • Improved physical health
  • Better sleep
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Increased mental strength
  • Improved psychological health
  • Improved ability to deal with adversity
  • Relationship building

I want to take a few minutes and focus on that last one.  During the holidays, it is easy to get overwhelmed and stressed.  But isn’t the focus of the holidays on relationships and time with family (not buying the biggest and best present?).  Focusing on gratitude can help bring the attention back to people and relationships (and away from consumerism).

I’ve written before about how to avoid a transactional Christmas.  Because I’m trying to be more of a minimalist, but my family loves buying gifts, even when they are not necessary – in my option.  

I would get so frustrated because my family wasn’t acting how I wanted them to. That’s not what the holidays are about.  And to be honest, maybe they were frustrated with me because I wasn’t acting how they wanted me to either.

But my relationship with them is important.  So shifting to focusing on gratitude during the holidays helps keep the energy positive and not frustrated. I can focus on what I am grateful for during the holidays instead of focusing on what is not going my way.

5 Ways to Focus On Gratitude During the Holidays

Here are five things you can do to start bringing your attention to the feelings of appreciation over those of overwhelm.  Choose to try one or all of them.  Find whatever works best for you.

12 Days of Gratitude

The 12 Days of Christmas is a well-known Christmas carol. But what if instead of thinking of laying hens and a partridge in a pear tree, we focus on something we are grateful for?

Make it a point to highlight something that you are grateful for the 12 days leading up to Christmas. These can be little things like clean sheets or bigger things like your health and family.

These 12 days of gratitude will help to build your gratitude muscle. And will end with you starting Christmas morning thinking about something you appreciate.

Set a Gratitude Alarm

Sure, focusing on gratitude is great and all, but you have to remember to do it.  Are you like me? You have intentions for the day, but then the day gets away from you?

If so, set a gratitude alarm. 

Create a reminder in your phone to go off daily (or whatever frequency you want).  When that reminder alarm pops up on your phone, take 2 minutes to think about all the things that you are grateful for right then and there.

You are delegating the responsibility of remembering to your electronic device. And it doesn’t care what time of year it is.  It’s always programmed to work.

As long as you stop and pause whenever your phone reminder alarm goes off, you will never forget to focus on gratitude during the holidays. No matter how busy and hectic things get.  

Create a Gratitude Anchor

Habit anchoring, also called habit stacking, is when you link a current habit to a new one you want to develop or practice.

For your gratitude practice, you could attach it to something you already do every day.  An easy way to do this would be to spend the time you are brushing your teeth thinking about what you are grateful for at that moment.  

If you need further help remembering, you can put a post-it note near your toothbrush or on your vanity mirror to help you remember.  Eventually, you won’t need the extra reminder anymore. The habit anchor will be enough of a cue.

Recruit A Friend

Most things are more fun with someone else. So why not recruit a friend on your gratitude journey? Or better yet, create a gratitude team of friends.

You can help keep each other accountable to your gratitude practice. And it can be very uplifting to hear what other people are grateful for.

Your gratitude team could communicate by a group text, group phone call, zoom call, or better yet, a meeting in person.

But don’t overcomplicate things and make it difficult to share your gratitude wins with each other.  The more difficult it is, the less likely you are to do it.

So recruit a coworker that you already see every day. Or a close friend who you can quickly text.  In-person is great.  But don’t make it the reason that your gratitude practice fizzles.

Start Each Day with Gratitude

Like creating a gratitude anchor, starting each day with gratitude is a simple reminder that can help you set the tone for your day.

Putting a note on your alarm clock or bedside table can remind you to take a minute when you wake up to think about the things you are grateful for.

How To Focus On Gratitude During the Holidays – Recap

  • 12 Days of Gratitude
  • Set a Gratitude Alarm
  • Create a Gratitude Anchor
  • Recruit a Friend
  • Start Each Day with Gratitude

Shifting Your Focus

Choosing to practice focusing on gratitude can shift your focus away from the little things that don’t really matter.

When you start to make it your focus, you decrease your ability to focus on other things at the same time.

Your brain is incapable of truly focusing on 2 things at the same time. Sure, you can walk and chew gum at the same time.  But I highly doubt you can solve a complicated math problem and text a loved one simultaneously.

That’s an added benefit of focusing on gratitude during the holidays.  When you fill your brain with thoughts of appreciation, there is no room for petty or selfish thoughts.

When I’m taking the time to be grateful for all of the little things during the holidays, I don’t have the energy to be frustrated by something out of my control.  And let’s be honest, this year there are so many things out of our control.

So if the holidays make you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or any other negative emotion shifting your focus to gratitude can have a considerable impact. At least at times, it has for me.

Notice How You Feel

Choosing to focus on gratitude takes conscious effort, especially if it is not your go-to response to things.  Like anything else, it’s going to take practice.

And while you are practicing gratitude during the holidays, take some time to yourself to notice how you feel. If you feel good doing something, chances are you are going to want to continue doing it.

For me, focusing on being grateful decreases my heart rate and fills me with inner joy. This is the exact opposite of the feelings of exhaustion and frustration that used to overwhelm me this time of year.  Some of those feels are still there. They are just more manageable when I’m focusing on appreciating those around me.

How to Focus on Gratitude During the Holidays - Pinterest Pin

Final Thoughts

Gratitude isn’t the be all end all answer to all of your problems.

It is just one way of changing your focus.  But should not be used as a way to avoid your emotions and feelings.  Whatever you are feeling is valid when you are feeling it.  Emotions don’t have to make sense or be rational.  We are humans who have emotions, and that is that no further explanation is needed.

But focusing on gratitude during the holidays can help take some of the edges off those negative feelings.  It can help you concentrate on what’s important this time of year (and really all the time) – relationships and time with the people who mean the most to you.

22 thoughts on “How To Focus On Gratitude During the Holidays”

  1. My family finally agreed this year to not have presents for adults in the family. I decided instead to donate money to the Christmas Bureau and Santas Anonymous. I am fortunate and I want to make it a little easier this year for some families that don’t have much. I find doing this makes me appreciate the things I have more and to find a way to help out others who really need it and not spend money on things that my family don’t “need”.

    Being together is the most important and it isn’t clear if that is going to be possible this year but I want to spread a bit of joy to others if I can.

    1. Pam – making a donation is a great replacement for gifts. I have tried every year to get my family to not do gifts for the adults but it never works. I’ve come to understand that giving gifts is their love language and that is okay. Instead of being frustrated, I turn my energy to appreciate the gifts that they give me.

      And I totally agree with you that being together is the most important part of the holidays. Unfortunately, who knows what that will look like this year. I’m still hopefully that we will be able to see our families even if it’s outside for a tobogganing party or other outdoor socially distanced activity.

  2. This post came at a perfect time for me. I’ve been feeling some stress about all the online shopping some family members have been doing recently.

    Their spending doesn’t make sense to me and I feel it’s my responsibility to ‘teach’ them to be more mindful and restrained!

    I never would’ve thought of gratitude as a way to counteract these feelings, but I’m going to give it a try. Thanks for sharing such a wise and helpful post. 🙂

    1. Chrissy – you will have to let me know how it goes. And if focusing on gratitude during the holidays has the same positive impact on you as it did for me.

  3. I love Christmas but it is a time I often feel overwhelmed. And you are right – practising gratitude is awesome. I started doing it every day this year instead of ad hoc by setting it in my app – I tick it when it’s done. I do feel calmer this year leading to Christmas

    1. Katherine – we could all use a gratitude reminder sometimes. And like anything, the more we practice it, the easier it becomes.

  4. I love this! With so much challenge facing those we love this year, we’re trying to focus on the basics: the glow of lights on a tree, the warmth of the house, hot drinks, laughs with family. Thanks for the reminder that we can be rich in gratitude.

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