Does this ring a bell…?

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be here. But that’s what keeps you up at night.  The soon will be here part… and you haven’t done everything you need to do. Your closets are jammed with wrapping paper and things you can’t quite remember buying (who was that toque for?). You can’t get the kitchen counter free of sticky sugar. You wake in the middle of the night wondering if you remembered to move the bloody elf.  And the anxious feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day seems to sit on your chest like a reindeer.

Breathe.

In the midst of the holiday season, we often get caught up in the swelling tides: parties, presents, Christmas cards, holiday concerts, baking, pictures with Santa. Scrolling through social media increases our anxiety, because it is a constant reminder that the to-do list is never quite done. I should be going to that Christmas market! I forgot to do a gingerbread house with my kids! There are only so many hours in the day.

But here is my question: at the end of your day, are you taking time to take it all in?  More importantly, are you taking time to be grateful for what you have, and to teach your kids a gratitude practice?

Research shows that gratitude improves your life: it helps people experience more positive emotions, relish good experiences, deal with stress and adversity, connect with others, and even improves your health. A 2012 study found that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people. They are more likely to exercise, eat well, and attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which increases their longevity.

I began a gratitude journal back in 2013, and every night I write at least three things that I am grateful for. I make note of the good parts of my day (and the challenging ones) and the lessons it taught me. The last three years have been some of the most challenging of my life – I am going through a divorce and trying to balance my careers with being a single parent – but I have found so much joy in life’s moments. I attribute this largely to my gratitude practice.

I am lucky – my children also have a gratitude practice. They give thanks before their meals by saying grace, and they pray in the evening, giving thanks for what they have in their life – their family, their friends, and their school. Does that stop them wanting beanbag chairs and Lego for Christmas? Heck, no. But, does it make them more aware of what they have – a roof over their heads, food in the fridge, clean water to drink, a healthy body, friends and family? I’d like to think so.

How you do start a gratitude practice? It is incredibly simple:

  1.  Lead by example: If you start your own gratitude journal at night, it will encourage your kids to do the same – especially if they are older. Treat yourself to a nice journal and keep it at your beside. Every morning or night  write down a few things that you are grateful for. Make it a daily practice.
  2. Purge and donate: As the new things come in this Christmas – toys, books and clothes – practice the rule “one thing in, one thing out” and donate to a local charity.
  3. Get your children to do a “Gratitude Vision Board” for 2017: over the holidays, brainstorm ways you and your family can give back in the upcoming year: by volunteering in a shelter cooking, helping at the local pet shelter, or giving a percentage of their allowance to a charity.
  4. Give thanks before your meals – even if you are not religious, you can thank the farmers for growing the vegetables!
  5. Play a game where you think of all the ways you can practice kindness – holding doors for people, saying bless you when someone sneezes. Point out the little ways your little ones can show gratitude to those around them.

 As 2016 comes to a close, we should think about health from a holistic perspective: it isn’t simply about foods that cause inflammation  (watch for that blog in January) or about making movement a daily part of your life (which I hope is part of your 2017 Resolutions). Health is about many different things – how we move, eat, sleep, and connect with our loved ones and the world around us. Be grateful for all you have. 


erin-phelan-headshotErin Phelan is a health and fitness professional, personal trainer and writer. Find her at www.80-percent.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.