Gratitude and thankfulness are synonymous with the month of November here in the United States. Often in today’s microwave popcorn, instant gratification society, we neglect slowing down to appreciate and cherish what life has given us. As we roll into this crisp fall month here in Charleston, how can we improve our family’s lives as a whole, while simultaneously being grateful for what we have? Giving back, especially in our local community, is ideal for deepening relationships, expanding our mindset, and reminding ourselves to appreciate our life and our world. Need some inspiration and ideas? We’ve got you covered.
Why give back when life is toughest?
Especially around the holidays, stress and anxiety can reach new levels you’ve never experienced before. As a child, I always wondered why my family became easily irritated, short-tempered, and demanding at a time I expected peace, love, and joy to fill the air. Yes, I’ve always been the optimistic one.
Then I grew up. I woke up to my own little stress factory family creation.
I woke up to unmet extended family expectations, financial strains, and a poorly-timed health crisis. Why did I only make one pie? (I only had a coupon for one frozen pumpkin pie, be thankful it’s thawed!) Who knew auntie was allergic to cinnamon? (Seriously, I need to poll the family for food allergies after forty years?) What difference does it make if my cranberry sauce is homemade? (Who legitimately eats it anyway?) In a 2015 survey conducted by Healthline reported by On The Brain Harvard newsletter, 62% of those polled reported “very or somewhat” elevated stress levels around the holidays. Why would anyone add more tasks to an already overfilled plate of worry?
Wouldn’t it feel good to be less stressed?
With the holidays here, we add more items on our to-do list, we attempt multi-tasking more often, and we force ourselves to attend to minute details of family preferences, home decor, and work gatherings. Talk about putting yourself in fight-or-flight mode! We create an environment we want to run away from when we should be basking in the gratefulness that we have so much at our fingertips. By volunteering to help locally, gratitude and thankfulness can stay at the forefront of our thoughts. We don’t concentrate on what others don’t have, but we begin to concentrate on what we DO have, and that’s where the magic happens.
Just by sending warm, friendly holiday cards or volunteering at local events, we improve our brain function, produce happy hormones, and decrease anxiety and stress. The area of our brain that controls planning, decision-making, and focus becomes overloaded around the holidays. Volunteering to assist others brings an almost immediate reversal of those characteristics. Expressing gratitude through actions, words, and thoughts creates dopamine which boosts our happiness and satisfaction. Can you imagine including your kids in this mix? Setting an example for them now is a great way to mold them into productive, thankful members of society for the future. I’ve known families throughout the years who have started traditions such as this, and these traditions create lifelong memories and values that carry on through generations.
How can we initiate gratitude in our families?
My ideas are by no means complete, so please comment with ideas you have, or even traditions your families already participate in! We love our community, and many times we want to reach out but don’t know where to start.
Here are a few ideas:
- Create a “Thankful For” list on the refrigerator, attach a pen so adding items is easy
- Write letters to relatives you cannot visit or haven’t seen in a while (written letters are a lost art!)
- Invite neighbors over that may not have family to visit or cannot afford to travel for holidays
- South Carolina Aquarium volunteer programs and connections are a resource of ideas
- Lowcountry Food Bank always needs assistance
- Local soup kitchen to volunteer
- The Salvation Army of the Carolinas Angel Tree
What are ways your family could focus on gratitude this year? How can you give your time and talent? Who would you love to see blessed and beyond happy this holiday season? In the past when I’ve volunteered at churches, food banks, and local organizations, my heart is filled with peace. I sleep better, I stress less, and I love more. I am thankful for what I have, and my worries fade quickly. Let’s slow down and appreciate what our gorgeous life and caring community has to offer.
Stress less, love more.