By: Lauri Doepke, MS, LPC, NCC

Closing the chapter of a year and the start of a new one can feel overwhelmingly stressful. Tasks, and perhaps life in general, can often feel daunting and exhausting. It becomes all too easy to get wrapped up in holiday events, feelings of obligation, the pressure of deadlines, to-do’s, last minute errands, creating the “perfect” meal or presentation of your home to holiday guests, etc. Our minds and perhaps even our hearts can become polluted in what I refer to as holiday smog.

This year I challenge you to rise above the holiday smog; even better, rise above the daily smog that smothers us every day. Life can be challenging and difficult and I’m not suggesting one should ignore those difficulties or block them out, but instead re-frame them. Acknowledge the difficulties for what they are and that they exist, but also choose to set aside time to focus your attention on what you appreciate or what is going well in your life.

When we choose to focus our mindset on appreciation, it soothes and centers our hearts. We find that, all in all, things are okay, or perhaps even better than okay, and remind us that we should try not to take those positive things for granted. With so much going on in our lives, and the smog that those things can create, it really does require conscious effort to bring our mindset to a place of gratitude. Like meditation, the practice of gratitude requires focus, energy, time, and attention. However, the more we practice it, the more natural it becomes.

A few suggestions on showing gratitude to people you are close to are to say thank you followed by what you’re thankful for, engage in an act of kindness without being asked, be fully attentive and present when listening to loved ones, encourage and support those you care about in their hobbies, or offer a genuine compliment. Ideas for showing gratitude towards people that serve you include leaving a larger than usual tip, showing patience and kindness even during moments of frustration, express kind regards towards their superior, or somehow making less work for them. Lastly, it is also good practice to show appreciation towards yourself. Offer yourself a compliment, feel grateful for your own unique talents and strengths, show respect towards yourself by being assertive and setting boundaries with others, and treat yourself to something you find rewarding.

It can be helpful to set aside a regular time of the day to help get you in the practice of showing gratitude on a regular basis. The “Three Blessings” exercise can be done laying in bed at night as you focus your mind on identifying three positive blessings or things you’re grateful for that day. Some individuals have gotten in the practice of having a gratitude jar where they write a statement of gratitude on a daily basis; other prefer to journal and focus on the positives of the day. Perhaps starting the day with thinking of yesterday’s blessing could start your day off in a positive path. However, you choose to do so an attitude of gratitude will not lead you astray.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward