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Approaching the New Year With Gratitude

By Laura Keys – Courier & Press – December 19, 2017 –

Have you ever noticed that no matter what happens in some people’s lives, they are able to maintain a relatively positive attitude and see the silver lining in each situation?

They see the opportunity in a challenging dilemma, and they appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss. That doesn’t happen by accident.

Fortunately, a positive attitude can be developed with a little practice. The brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.

This is not just good practice for our mental health but for our spiritual health as well. Many different faiths emphasize the importance of thankfulness, especially as a form of prayer. Eckhart Toelle said, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘Thank You,’ that will be enough.”

Thankfulness doesn’t always come easily, but it is at those times that we need to seek out gratitude the most.

One of the ways we can train our brain in thankfulness is keeping a gratitude journal. In one study, psychologist Jeffrey Froh at Hofstra University asked students to write in gratitude journals each day for two weeks.

Students were asked to write down things they felt thankful for on a daily basis. Three weeks later, the students who counted their blessings reported feeling more optimistic, more satisfied with their lives and had more school satisfaction.

Froh explained the results this way: “It’s beyond feeling good, and beyond happiness… we found that grateful kids tend to report less physical complaints; but also in the adult literature they found that grateful people who counted blessings were more likely to exercise, more likely to report better sleep, less likely to report these physical complaints.”

 Researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough also found many positive effects of keeping gratitude journals. Among the benefits were:

  • Being more likely to make progress on personal goals
  • Higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm and energy
  • Reporting having helped someone else or offered emotional support
  • Children reporting more positive attitudes toward school and their families
  • Adults with neuromuscular disease felt more optimistic about life and slept better

Twenty-one days is the time it takes to form a new habit. Now is an ideal time, as we prepare for the coming year and celebrate the holidays. It is a time to take stock of how we want our new year to unfold, and it’s a time to make promises to ourselves about improvement and renewal.

A different new year challenge than working on our outsides (gym memberships, new diets) would be to start with our insides (our hearts and minds). A gratitude journal could be just the thing to increase our compassion, optimism and humility.

Make this a part of your new year’s renewal. Select a special logbook that can be written in each day. At the beginning or end of the day, write down five things that make you feel grateful and thankful. You may feel like drawing a picture or attaching photos that mean something special to you. In any case, write down five items each day for three weeks.

If you have trouble getting started, think about simple or even obvious things like running water, your favorite song, coffee, that it snowed (or didn’t) today or experiencing another sunrise.

Once the list gets started, it’s easy to add items. At the end of three weeks, spend some time reflecting on the material you gathered. Meet a friend for lunch or coffee, and share your gratitude.

For more information on the benefits of gratitude see   happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/.

* Getting Your New Year Off to a Great Start *

By Whitney Eaton, LCSW, Courier & Press, Jan. 3, 2017 –

As the New Year arrives, I often find myself in a time of reflection. It’s the time of year for beginnings and endings, looking forward and back.

What were my greatest achievements? What were some of my biggest challenges? How did I handle those challenges? What did I learn?

Looking back can help me plan what I want to accomplish going forward. What do I want to continue? What do I want to try? What should I avoid? Contemplating these things helps me with the ritual of setting a New Year’s resolution.

Setting a New Year’s resolution is usually an attempt at self-improvement. However, many New Year’s resolutions are hard to maintain and end in failure. It is really difficult to turn our good intentions into long-term success.

If you find yourself having trouble setting and maintaining your resolutions, here are some steps to help:

Try a “New You” challenge. Think of a different habit you could track each month. At the end of the year you will have twelve new habits. For example, in January you could resolve to eat more vegetables. In February you could get more organized by cleaning out closets.

Write your resolution down and post it somewhere that is often visible to you.  This will serve as a reminder of your goal and help you stay on track.  Also, writing down your goals makes it more likely for you to achieve them.

Make a plan. Sit down and write up a step-by-step plan to achieve your goal. Write down baby steps you can take each month.

Write down the barriers to maintaining your resolution. Next, find solutions to your barriers. If your resolution is to save more and have an emergency fund, a barrier might be that all of your paycheck goes to pay bills. A solution could be to sell some of the old toys your children are not playing with anymore to establish the emergency fund.

Have an accountability partner. Share your resolution with someone who will help you keep it. This could be a spouse, parent, co-worker or friend, someone who is going to remind you kindly that you don’t really need that $7.00 coffee.

Celebrate success. If you have achieved some of the small steps toward reaching your larger goal, celebrate!

Having trouble thinking of a resolution?  Use some of these prompts to find yours:

I’m going to do better at…
A new book I want to read is…
A bad habit I would like to break is…
A place I would like to visit is…
A good deed I would like to do is…
Something I want to do differently is…

Breaking habits or trying to form new ones can be difficult.  Practicing a few of these steps can help you stay on track with your goals and get the New Year off to a great start!