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The holidays are a time to focus on the most important aspects of life. We take time out to be with family, share gifts, and give to those less fortunate. Whether intentional or not, feelings of gratitude are often woven throughout these annual traditions, and can impact our mental health in a positive way.

We know that gratitude helps us appreciate life, improve our health, build strong relationships and handle adversity. In fact, research shows having an attitude of gratitude is consistently associated with greater happiness.

Two psychologists from the University of Miami asked research participants to write a few sentences weekly focusing on different topics. One group was instructed to write about things they were grateful for, a second group wrote about things that displeased them, and a third group wrote about things that affected them in general. The researchers followed the different groups for 10 weeks and found the group focusing on gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. The same group even visited the doctor less and exercised more.

So how can you focus on gratitude this holiday season? Here are some simple ideas you can practice everyday:

  1. Make a list of things you have instead of things you want. This time of year is often focused on receiving gifts. To increase your gratitude, make a list of things you already have. Count your blessings and record how it makes you feel to have these things in your life.
  2. Write a thank you note. The act of saying thank you can help you better appreciate the gifts you receive. In addition to gifts, try thanking someone for being a good friend or helping you in an intangible way. As your relationships are strengthened, your gratitude will also increase.
  3. Meditate or pray. If you are religious, praying can often help cultivate gratitude and help us focus on things outside of ourselves. Much in the same way, meditating can help us to reestablish priorities and remind us of what we have to be thankful for.
  4. Practice acts of kindness. The holiday season is a wonderful time to help others who are less fortunate. Volunteering, donating canned goods and toys, or baking cookies for a neighbor are simple and easy ways to show others that you care. As a bonus, while these acts of kindness serve others, they also help to boost our mood and gratitude.
  5. Focus on your health. While you may have some health problems, mental or physical, focus on the positive aspects of your health. Are you able to get outside? Can you smell dinner cooking or hug a loved one? We often take our abilities for granted. Take time to be thankful for what your health allows you to do and not how it may be limiting.

Gratitude is about focusing on what we have rather than what we lack. In doing so, we can boost our mental health and help those around us. Work on increasing your gratitude over the holidays and into the new year.