Health / Expert Advice

How Meditation Can Help You Focus on Gratitude This Season

If you’re looking to cultivate an attitude of gratitude this holiday season, turn to meditation.

Say hello to the holiday season: It’s the most wonderful time of the year—and also the craziest. Stressful shopping, winter blues, parties galore, and family travel. This can all take a toll on both your spirit and your health. Plus, it can make it challenging to find some peace. You might not think of meditation as an immediate solution, but research says otherwise. Meditating boosts your immune system, reduces stress and anxiety, promotes sleep, protects your heart, and minimizes burnout. It even improves your sense of well-being and compassion. Here’s how meditation helps foster gratitude, and why practicing mindfulness keeps you both grounded and thankful.

Meditating naturally increases gratitude.

According to Aaptiv Trainer Jessica Ray, the more that you practice gratitude through meditation, the more grateful you’ll feel and become. Once you’re feeling grateful, it’s easier to recognize the good parts of your life that you may have previously overlooked. People who practice gratitude and approach life from a mindset of gratitude, notes Therapist and Yoga Teacher Sarah Thacker, tend to be happier and more resilient in the face of discomfort. That’s because meditation allows you to practice shifting to a perspective of gratitude, versus anxiety and fear.

“Meditation, in relation to gratitude, can offer several benefits,” says Aaptiv Trainer Ceasar Barajas. “For example, it’s in a meditation setting (whether a sitting or moving meditation) that you bring mindfulness to what is currently present. It allows an opportunity to be thankful for what you’ve survived, your family and friends, your work, etc. I love to gently remind people in my classes to look around and be grateful that we woke up and are here. Even if you don’t think [that] you have something to be grateful for, you really do. You’re still standing and have the chance to do whatever you want. That choice to choose gratitude is always with you.”

It also encourages you to be grateful for the little things in life, too, adds Aaptiv Trainer Jade Alexis—like your breath or the act of being still for a moment. Additionally, consistent meditation helps foster perspective. This encourages an overall attitude of gratefulness and stepping back to appreciate your life, says Eddie Cohen, founder of Walden.

Meditation brings you back to what’s most important.

“During the holidays, there are so many things to be grateful for: family, food, gifts, [and] parties,” says Alexis. “It can also be a very hectic time [of] planning, scheduling, and attending events while the year ends and we are ‘running out’ of time. A meditation practice helps slow down the mind, slow you down, and put things into perspective. Instead of experiencing stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed, through meditation, gratitude can be found in the small things. [You can] turn your ‘troubles’ around.”

It’s common during the last few months of the year to experience stress and disconnection. This is due to constantly trying to meet the needs of others and managing expectations. All of this can very quickly erode any feelings of gratitude. To combat anxiety around the holidays, meditation serves as a tool to increase your sense of calm. It encourages you to focus on the present moment in a state of non-judgmental awareness, says Thacker. Meditation Expert Dr. Jeffery Martin, who studies the mental health benefits of daily meditation, says that the benefits are clear. Meditating can lead to a 30 percent decrease in stress and a 40 percent decrease in depression.

“A regular meditation practice can help you focus on gratitude during the holiday season by allowing you to be present with what you do have, and not [with] what you don’t,” agrees Barajas. “In my opinion, the holidays are some of the most stressful times of the year. We, as a society, correlate the holidays to materialistic gathering[s] instead of a concentration on what the holidays represent—which ideally is family, gratitude, camaraderie, love, and togetherness.”

Use short, simple meditations to focus on gratitude.

According to Cohen, there is one easy way to incorporate gratitude into your meditation practice. Identify three things that you’re grateful for every day. Thacker also likes this approach, and simplifies it one step further, using the saying, “Today I am grateful for . . .,” “I am grateful,” or, even, “May I be grateful.”

Here are some additional options to get you started:

“We too often focus on what we don’t have, and what could have been, versus every wonderful thing [that] we have in the moment,” concludes Dr. Martin. “Spend a few minutes each day or in each stressful experience being thankful for even the smallest things that add to your life. This helps set your brain for the right kind of deeper meditative experience, regardless of where you are and how much time you have.”

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