As we celebrate the holiday season and end of the year, it is common to reflect on giving and sharing with others and what it means to be grateful. Fortunately, the feeling we get when we feel grateful is something that can last all year long.

Did you know that expressing and receiving gratitude changes the brain? Research shows that gratitude literally rewires the brain to be happier. Two neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, dopamine and serotonin, are released when we give to others and receive from others. That release makes us feel good on the inside. Developing a gratitude mindset builds feelings of positivity and appreciation for other things, which makes life so much better. Not only is the health of the physical brain improved by giving and receiving gratitude, mental health improves. It is a source of positive energy that leads to a shift in attitude and mood.
For me, gratitude is a gift of love for ourselves and others. Focusing on things for which I am grateful not only helps me with my personal challenges and stress, it is an intentional routine and action that improves my overall wellbeing. This focus does not come naturally any more than cultivating a habit of healthy eating or routine exercise. It is definitely intentional and routine. Others receive the joy and benefits of my attention in whatever way I present my thankfulness. Whether you decide to practice gratitude daily or during set times throughout the week, it is a worthwhile habit.

There are many things that boost gratefulness. Here are just a few:

  • Write a letter of thank you to someone who has done you a kind deed or influenced you in a positive way. If you are not a letter writer, a phone call is good, too.
  • Go for a nature walk and take the time to appreciate the things around you. Absorb the sights, sounds and aromas nature provides.
  • Keep a thankfulness journal – daily writing can help you stay mindful of good things.
  • Think of what you may consider to be the smallest of comforts and appreciate them. Do you have enough food? Do you have a place to live? Do you have a friend or someone to look after you? Appreciating these things when you have other things that disappoint not only redirects your focus, it defeats negativity.
  • Take Oprah Winfrey’s advice: “Be thankful for what you have; you will end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never have enough”.

If you were told you could do only one good thing for yourself and others this holiday season, I would encourage you to choose to cultivate or underscore an already developed mindset for gratitude. Some days we find we are grateful for much and other days we must look for reasons to feel grateful but the search is worth it, and we will find at least something to appreciate. Thankfully (pun intended!), practicing gratitude is within our power to do, and it lasts all year long. Well, actually, all year every year.

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Kathy Faenzi PhotoKathy C. Faenzi MA is a Clinical Gerontologist and Senior Care Consultant based in San Mateo, CA.

JC Spicer, M.Ed. is a Freelance Social Science Writer and Developmental Editor based in the U.K.