How to be more thankful and grateful at this time of year

I know it seems early to think about the holidays, but if you really want to enjoy the season, it helps getting started now. When you’re feeling overwhelmed (cue early December), being thankful and grateful for this time of year – let alone all you have can be a challenge. 

How to be more thankful and grateful so you can really enjoy the holidays
Pretty much everyday, I jot down 5 to 10 things I’m thankful for. (Photo credit: F8 Photography)

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years on how to enjoy the holidays and fill them with experiences you truly love.

Prioritizing holiday traditions

The first step towards being more thankful and grateful (and mindful!) is prioritizing. You don’t have to do all the holiday traditions you did as a kid. Make a list of all the traditions you try to incorporate over the holiday season. And I mean everything, from making stuffing to putting up outdoor lights.

Then read over your list and circle only those traditions you really love. It’s a good idea to do this brainstorming and prioritizing with your family, so everyone identifies a few things that are meaningful for them.

So often we try to cram in all the holiday experiences we had as kids, without remembering how taxing it was for our parents. There’s consequences for doing it all. You might even find you’ve been do things (nobody likes) just for the sake of tradition.

When I did this exercise, I realized I really do like sending Christmas cards (weird!) and spending time with people I don’t see as often as I’d like to. I found out nobody in my family cares if I bake Christmas cookies or a traditional turkey dinner. I was totally surprised, but also relieved. Out they go!

family christmas photo with dog
Behold our 2018 holiday card! (Photo credit: F8 Photography)

The errand date

Now that you know what’s important to you, schedule it in. For me, it’s spending time with others, so I fire off some texts to girlfriends and organize a get together. I think there’s no shame in making it an errand date. We’re fabulous multi-taskers, after all! 

I typically meet one of my girlfriends at the mall on a weeknight. After dinner (never the food court, always a proper restaurant) we help each other holiday shop. Sometimes we even go to Costco together.

If you’re doing an errand date (especially with someone you love), you can’t make it all business. Cap off the errand with something happy. Go for drinks at a fancy hotel bar or catch a holiday flick before heading home.

The trick is to leave some slack in your schedule. That way if a last minute fun opportunity comes your way, you can take it without feeling overwhelmed.

I'm thankful for
With a little pre-planning, you can turn boring errands into a date with friends or even your sweetheart.

Happy holiday box

One thing that I’m most thankful for over the holidays is knowing where those important, seasonal items are. And not feeling rushed. To help with this, I’ve created a holiday box.

In this box (actually a humungous gift bag) I store all the things I need to get a head start on the holidays. It’s the last thing I put into storage, so I’m easily able to grab it mid-November.

In this box, I’ve stored Christmas cards, freezable holiday recipes (and any decorating doodads), holiday magazines, crafts and the like. Whenever I peek into my holiday box, I’m so grateful I had the foresight to stash these treasures away.

It’s too much (for me) to begin decorating and going all out before December 1. But if all I have to do is whip up a recipe or two, get my kid started on some crafts (which never get finished over the holidays) and start my Christmas cards, I’m happy.

happy holiday box
I always forget what I’ve put in my holiday prep box, which makes it such a sweet surprise each November.

Make bulk dishes

Curveballs get thrown at people throughout the year, but over the holidays they’re particularly troublesome. That’s why I’m grateful for any bulk dishes I’ve stashed away.

In November I start to make 1 or 2 bulk dinner dishes a week. Making bulk dishes only requires doubling the ingredients and about 10 extra minutes. This week I’m freezing turkey chili and a vegetarian curry.

Other delicious bulk meals that make the cut:

  • Whole30 chicken tacos
  • Bolognese sauce
  • Black bean soup
  • French lentils and brown rice (good to have some healthy sides)
  • Marinated ribs that I’ve boiled prior, so I can quickly grill after defrosting

The Compliment Project

Finding a charity you can volunteer at with children under the age of 12 is so hard. But the holidays are about giving back and the Compliment Project does this.

Simply go to the Compliment Project site and print off their flyers. We had a ball taping these compliments to lampposts around our neighbourhood.

People really responded well to this project. We had to replace some posters within a day! If you can make a person – especially a stranger, feel happy and appreciated, you get full points for spreading Christmas cheer.

you light up the room
How do unexpected compliments make you feel? Great, right?!

Gratitude list ideas

When the Christmas crazies hit, the best thing you can do is take a purposeful moment and remember all the good going on in your life.

Some people keep a gratitude journal, but I don’t. I list out 5 to 10 things I’m thankful and grateful for on whatever paper I have around me. Sometimes I do it in my head.

Studies have shown that those who take time out of their day to think about what they’re grateful for have better health, more enriching relationships and less anxiety.

Admittedly, sometimes I’m stumped to come up with 10 or more things on my gratitude list, but I have a few stand-by ideas. I find it’s easiest to make a gratitude list by categories: relationships, health, career,  etc…

gratitude list ideas
It takes a bit of practice, but thinking of a few things to be grateful for will soon become second nature. (Photo credit: F8 Photography)

I’m thankful for…

This morning I thought of 10 things that I’m thankful for. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Sleeping through the night
  2. The Huz and Eve – all of us in the same house
  3. My adorable dog
  4. Having two fairly secure incomes
  5. The opportunities my job presents
  6. A well stocked freezer
  7. I can make my favourite gym class today
  8. Holiday light displays
  9. It’s just rain, not snow
  10. Unlimited entertainment: Netflix, the library, the internet

Gratitude is a muscle that needs to be flexed. Once you’re in the habit and have cultivated a gratitude practice, it’ll come naturally to you. And I bet you’ll feel more happiness.

What strategies do you employ to feel more grateful and thankful at this time of year?

P.S. You may enjoy reading:

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