Be grateful for everything this holiday season

by Jordan Green

We’ve all heard this cliché before: “Have an attitude of gratitude.”

We’re especially inclined to hear it around this time of the year: Christmas, the season of giving. Some of us have had this phrase pounded into our heads through the years, and we might roll our eyes when we hear it. But even if we’re tired of hearing this advice, we should still heed it.

When we think of Christmas, we probably think a lot about material matters: fancy gifts, lavish trips and an overindulgence in eggnog. (Gross!)

I’d like to remind us that we shouldn’t take our focus off the real meaning of the season. Toys and goodies shouldn’t matter that much. But everyone likes getting good gifts, so here’s a reminder for us all: If you get a gift this year, any gift at all, be grateful.

The importance of gratitude was heightened in my life just a few days ago. I was hanging out with a couple good buddies who were swapping Christmas gifts. One of my friends gave a brand-new hobby-related item to the other. The recipient, rather than immediately thanking the friend (whose gift was more than generous), immediately found fault with it. Said he didn’t like the appearance.

Ouch. At that point, the damage was done. My friend who gave the gift later told me he was angry and upset with our friend’s ungratefulness – and rightly so.

Have you ever been given a gift you didn’t like a whole lot? How did you respond? Did you complain about it and make snide comments? Or did you happily accept it, knowing that the giver was doing something nice for you? I hope you did the latter, but I’m afraid we’ve all done the former.

We’re rarely as grateful as we ought to be. This lack of gratitude stems, in part, from the fact that most of us don’t realize just how much we have to be grateful for.

The fact that you and I are both alive today is a gift. Be grateful. If you’ve got breath in your lungs and blood in your veins, you’ve got something to be grateful for. If you’re able to read this column, you’ve got eyes that work – something to be grateful for. (Hopefully you can use those eyeballs to find better reading material, too.) And you’ve obviously got enough time to sit down and read a newspaper. I’d say that’s something to be grateful for.

By this point, you might be listing all the stuff in your life that you aren’t grateful for. Perhaps you have a serious health condition. Or you’ve lost a loved one, your job or some money. Maybe you, like so many others, are dealing with depression going into the holidays.

But I’ve got a message for you: Even in these situations, there’s always something to be grateful for. If nothing else, be grateful that the tough stuff isn’t tougher, that the pain isn’t sharper and that you aren’t sadder than you are. I have a sense that, if you’ll start to apply gratitude to even the worst situations in your life, you’ll start to find joy there and elsewhere.

As the song goes, sweet things come out of dark places. As for people with physical and mental health problems, perhaps gratitude is the very medicine you need. Studies show that grateful people are healthier and happier than other people. Best of all, gratitude costs nothing, so you don’t have to worry about dealing with insurance. Take that, Big Pharma.

A Harvard Health story written in August offers these suggestions to help people grow in gratitude: write thank-you notes to people, make a list of recent positive experiences you’ve had and take time to meditate on what you have in your life that’s good – family, friends, money, a job, a home, anything.

Start working on this today. And by the time Christmas is here, no matter how bad you think your gift may be, you’ll be able to appreciate it more.

Above all else, remember that many, many, many – too many – folks won’t get anything this Christmas. They may not have any family members or friends to give them something or spend time with. Just having a loved one around is a special gift, and we take time with others for granted all too often. Don’t let that happen this year.

If you get anything at all this Christmas, consider yourself lucky – and make yourself grateful.