‘Tis the Season for Joy and Gratitude – Using Gratitude to Unlock Joy

Christmas_ornaments

If only feelings of joy and gratitude were synced to a calendar. That would certainly make the holiday season an easier experience, at least for some. Constant messages all around us suggesting we must feel joy and be grateful can seem pressured, leaving us feeling inauthentic in our efforts to make our lives look like a Norman Rockwell picture.
It might help to consider that any feelings (even joy) stem from our thought-life. We can change how we feel by changing the way we think!  Re-training our brain to think differently can take some time. The good news is we can move closer to a healthy thought-life by practicing the behaviors that are associated with feelings like joy.  In fact, there is evidence that practicing gratitude can unlock our joy!  No prerequisite feeling needed! The feeling will follow the intent and action.
So how do we practice gratitude? Consider the following actions you can take. Begin during this holiday season and carry these new rituals into the new year!
  1. Begin a gratitude journal – I know it may sound cliche’, but the research is showing us that significant positive changes in our brain chemistry take place when we just think about what we might be grateful for! Try it for a month. At the end of each day, spend 15 minutes thinking about 3 things for which you are truly grateful.
  2. Voice your appreciation for something – Even the smallest of compliments to someone else, or voicing how grateful you are that a much needed rain fell last night can begin to re-shape how we think and shifts our perspective about our world.
  3. Eliminate complaining – What a challenge! I encourage you to try it! Commit to going one day, or even a whole week, without voicing complaints and see how you feel!
  4. Look for the lesson in an otherwise annoying situation – Since we can’t control what situations or toxic people come our way, we can strive to change how we experience that event or person. Always look for what you can learn in any given scenario. It shifts your thoughts from the negative to the positive.
  5. Make gratitude a habit – Because gratitude is a choice of thought and not an emotion, we can make the practice of it a daily routine in our lives. Creating a healthy habit of practicing grateful thoughts can sustain us through difficult times.  Because it’s not a feeling, we don’t have to wait for it to rise up in us randomly or spontaneously. We can summon the habit of gratitude by practicing some form of it each day.

Remember that gratitude is an attitude rather than an emotion. Stressful events can certainly steal our joy for a time, though an intentional shift of our attitude back to gratefulness can help us regain or retain that joy, despite our circumstances. Victor Frankl, a well-known psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor thrived during one of the most egregious seasons of his life (and in our world’s history) by realizing that the Nazis could take away everything from him – including his life – everything but one thing. That one thing was his attitude.  Our attitude is our way of thinking about a situation. Regardless of what’s happening around us, we get to choose it. This awareness helped Dr. Frankl hold on when there was no concrete hope on which to hold. We can do the same.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”    ― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

Finding joy is a unique journey for each of us since a person’s joy is created by very personal experience. However, there are common steps we can each take on our journey that can help us reach the desired destination of feeling more joy. While joy is never a permanent state of being, taking these steps can ensure it comes more than it goes. I certainly wish you peace and strength on your journey – and of course, joy and gratitude in this season and for many seasons to come!

 

About L. Chris Cannida

I am a licensed professional counselor living and practicing in Tulsa, Oklahoma
This entry was posted in Counseling and Mental Health. Bookmark the permalink.

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