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Cultivating a Heart of Thankfulness During the Holiday Season

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 11:45am

"Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other." — Randy Pausch

The winter holiday season undoubtedly brings some of the best meals you’ve had all year along with an abundance of activities, festivities, and get-togethers. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve and Day can easily become celebrations characterized by excess, and for many people, they’re also times of stress and sadness.

Approaching the holiday season with a grateful and giving heart is a sure way to lighten the load for others while enriching your own life. It can also increase your feelings of having “enough” in the face of mass consumerism so typical of this time of year. See if a few of these ideas make your winter holiday season a more bountiful, joyful, and peaceful one.

Thanking family

"Appreciation can change a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary." — Margaret Cousins

The holidays are a great time to let your family members know how much you cherish and appreciate them. A nostalgic look back in time to revisit special moments from childhood and acknowledge past blessings can deepen the emotional bond you share with your parents, grandparents, and siblings.

Create a very special gift for a family member this year in the form of a gratitude jar. Decorate an unfinished wooden box or a mason jar—any container with a lid is great. Cut paper into small strips. Dedicate an entire month to writing down one thing per day about this family member (or two, in the case of your parents or grandparents) for which you are grateful. It could be a character trait or the memory of a time they did something very special for you.

When the family gathers to exchange holiday gifts, present your gratitude jar to the recipient. You can read every strip of paper aloud to them, or sit back and enjoy the delight on their face as they pull each one from the jar and take in your heartwarming words.

Acknowledging friends and coworkers

"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." — Marcel Proust

Do you have a very special friend or coworker whose presence uplifts you? Maybe it’s their sharp sense of humor that you can always count on to deliver a big laugh when you need it most. A simple handwritten note of appreciation tucked inside a holiday card can generate much happiness in your recipient.

Don’t worry about crafting the perfect letter. Two researchers asked 100 students to write a short “gratitude letter” to someone who had influenced them. It took the students about five minutes to write the letter, but many of the recipients felt “ecstatic” by the show of appreciation. The social scientists found that “sincerity of intent is much more important than the wording of the letter.”

Praising those who serve

"We must find the time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives." — John F. Kennedy

The holiday season is the perfect time to express your gratitude for the multitude of unsung heroes who make your life easier every day. Maybe it’s the friendly checker at the grocery store whose line you prefer to wait in or the person who delivers your mail or picks up your garbage.

Let these often-overlooked people who make your life more comfortable know you appreciate them in a simple, sincere way. Maybe you can bake extra cookies or pies to share with them. Even just a handwritten card of heartfelt thanks for the good they’ve done for you all year long can brighten their holidays.

Appreciating nature

"Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first or the last time, then your time on earth will be filled with glory." — Betty Smith

When was the last time you took a walk outdoors simply to marvel at the beauty? Have some fun by approaching this exercise with the mind, heart, and eyes of a child.

Use this writing worksheet created for third and fourth graders to jot down your observations of the plants, animals, weather, and sounds during a nature walk. You can then use your notes to create a work of art, a poem, or a letter of appreciation to nature, celebrating the bounty and diversity of life all around you.

Remembering the less fortunate

"No one has ever become poor by giving." — Anne Frank

Nonprofits in your community provide countless ways to help others during the holidays, and many of them rely heavily upon volunteers at this time of year. Remember that some of the best gifts aren’t “things” but your time. Consider helping by:

  • Volunteering at a food pantry or soup kitchen
  • Delivering holiday meals to low-income families or homebound seniors
  • Visiting with residents at an assisted living facility
  • Playing Secret Santa for a child in need
  • Making care packages for veterans to thank them for their service
  • Collecting food, toys, treats, and bedding for your local animal shelter

“If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.” — W. Clement Stone

One of the easiest things you can do to help others that doesn’t cost you a dime is donating items you no longer use. Go through your closets to find gently used clothing and shoes you haven’t worn in ages. Donating cold-weather items such as hats, gloves, scarves, and coats could make a big difference in someone’s life.

If you know an international student at school or one who can’t make it home for the holidays, invite them to your family’s celebration. Sharing a home-cooked holiday meal with your loved ones can help lessen the loneliness they may feel being separated from theirs.

“The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us.” — James E. Faust

If you are looking to pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree, look no further than University of the Cumberlands. With professors who have years of real-world experience in the same field they are teaching, very competitive tuition rates, and a sense of honor in everything we do, why look any further? See what UC can do for you by contacting an admissions counselor for more information.