Feeling Down This Holiday Season? Give Yourself the Gift of Joy & Gratitude

12/12/2017 06:25 pm ET

The holiday season is undeniably the all-time season for gift giving. Yet the magical part of the Holiday season has less to do with presents, and far more with the intangibles; the love, joy and happiness we feel as we come together with family and friends.

So what if, this holiday season, you focus more on the intangible gifts?

Sometimes, it's easy to have something very special to be grateful for: like 8-year-old Johnny Cole, who finally was able to ride a bike by himself and join his family on the bike path. But you see, until this year, that was an exceptional challenge for Johnny, born without most of his right arm, trying to master bike riding with just his left arm.

At his dad’s request, four engineering students from the University of Iowa, where his dad was a graduate student, set out to find a way for Johnny to ride his bike. It took the students a year of dogged persistence and creative endeavor, but they successfully came up with a device that bridges the gap between Johnny’s shortened arm and the bike handle – and voila! He’s one happy camper, zipping around on his very own red motocross model with its Spiderman bell. Talk about joy! Johnny and his parents have heartwarming reasons to express enormous gratitude to those students.

You may say, “Well I don’t have anything special this year for which to express gratitude: heck, everything’s rotten! My S.O. is still in poor health, my kids are unappreciative teens, my in-laws are nothing but a pain in the neck, my work sucks, woe is me!” And even if things aren’t that bad, you may still feel there is little if anything that brought you joy this year.

Science repeatedly tells us that gratitude is so very important to our health, our mental, emotional and physical well-being, that it’s worth deliberately looking for reasons to be grateful. If this year was miserable, and if the sun coming up every day doesn’t do it for you; if flowers, puppies, kittens and sunsets don’t conjure up a feeling of joy, then root around in your past to find something to be grateful for.

I guarantee, if you simply close your eyes, and review your life, focusing your attention on people, experiences or things that have brought you happiness, it’s easy to feel gratitude. Oh, sure, you may find that in reviewing your life, you bump up against unhappy times, but just slide past those, because your objective here is to find reasons to be grateful, not more opportunities for sorrow or self-pity. And as with anything else, whatever you focus on, grows.

Focus on what has brought you joy, and give thanks for it. With that, you may find it easier to look around your present life and find at least some moments/situations worthy of gratitude. The result? You'll feel better about yourself and your situation. As an added bonus, as the research shows, your immune system will benefit (maybe no winter cold this year!), your cardiovascular system will improve, and even your brain will function better.

All of which are more reasons to feel joy and be--grateful!

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