Illustration of gratitude journal
The Winter Issue

How We're Leaning Into Gratitude This Holiday Season

In many ways, tying gratitude to the holiday season is a lot like tying self-improvement to New Year's. It puts an artificial deadline on something that we should try to benefit from on a daily basis. As with New Year's resolutions, there are lots of ideas out there about the "right" way to go about gratitude, and there is no shortage of places within the wellness marketplace where you could spend money in order to help you get better at feeling grateful.

Don't get us wrong—we fully endorse the idea of cultivating gratitude and exploring more ways to acknowledge positive emotions in our lives. There are a number of benefits of gratitude that are backed by research, including better sleep, higher self-esteem, and decreased stress. But it's important to remember that gratitude may look very different for each of us, and we wholly reject the idea of toxic positivity at all costs.

The Verywell Mind team has faced its share of ups and downs over the past few years, just like everyone, and we've all dealt with them in our own ways. And as you'll see, we have some very distinct approaches to gratitude. No matter what you're thankful for this holiday season, know that getting started is as simple as taking a quiet moment to reflect.

Here's what we have discovered in our moments of quiet reflection.

Not All Queens Are Beys

We've been led to believe that putting people on pedestals is unhealthy because it can introduce an imbalance in the relationship. And that degree of power asymmetry in any bond can be less than desirable at best and mentally damaging at worst (unless you're kink-friendly).

However, I argue that if you're discerning enough, you'll likely be able to identify a special someone in your life who's of queen caliber—and it's not Beyoncé! For me, my idol is my Aunt Trini.

I had a rather strict upbringing, but I didn’t realize that until I was met with gasps and 'oh my god, for reals?' after recounting childhood stories to friends. But I digress.

Like many parents, mine shied away from discussing those uncomfortable-but-still-important topics like sex and dating. But my Aunt, being the free spirit and the non-judgmental person she is, found comfort in the taboo. So, rather than revealing all of the details of my love life to my parents (who would have cringed and run away screaming), I would spill the beans to Aunt Trini instead. Luckily for me, she was happy to share her adventurous dating experiences from her 20- and 30-something-year-old days. And, as a bonus, I could complain to her about my parents (sorry, not sorry, Mom and Dad)!

One night, during an exchange of minutes-long Whatsapp voice notes, we agreed to dump cinnamon simultaneously onto our hands. Then, after puffing our cheeks with air, we each blew the spice from our palms so that the rust-colored seasoning dusted our bedroom floors. She told me that cinnamon brings good luck.

And so my Aunt taught me how to spot the signs of toxic behavior, embrace and lean into my masculine and feminine energy, and how to manifest good things. From her, I learned the health benefits of eating sea moss gel and drinking hot lime water in the mornings.

Most importantly, she taught me how to build my self-esteem and recognize my worth because, as women of color, we enter this world with a deficit of each. So, whenever I questioned myself (which I did and still do frequently), she'd be there to remind me of my intelligence, value, and beauty. Even a simple text with an affirmation or a prayer would be enough to uplift me.

With all that said, I'm eternally grateful for the love, acceptance, and wisdom she's poured into me over the years. I wouldn't be the woman I am today without her guidance.

My Aunt Trini, my hype woman, relationship and spirituality guru, second mom, and the big sister I never had, is more than deserving of a throne. And though I'd never "bow down" to Bey, if my Aunt ever asked me to, I'd humbly oblige her.

-Ayana Underwood

Inner Peace in 15 Minutes or Less

As much as I would love to savor a few hours of each morning to myself before logging on to grind through work, my body no longer allows me to wake up as early as my brain would like. The chances of me sitting upright at the first chime of my alarm, bright-eyed and ready to tackle the day are slim to none.

Despite not being able to cram in a full morning routine most days, the days where I am able to squeeze in just 15 minutes of my combined yoga and meditation practice are the days I feel my best.

Yoga with Kassandra, my go-to YouTube yogi, allows me to accomplish in 15 minutes what would typically take an hour. Among her many curated programs, I love her 10-minute sessions that make up a larger 30-day challenge. Each of these target a specific ailment or area of the body (think yoga for neck and shoulder pain relief) and are followed up with five-minute affirmation meditations you can choose to do immediately after the yoga session.

Her classes are beginner-friendly and never fail to relieve all the aches and kinks in my body after a long (or short) night's rest. The affirmation meditations also allow me to quiet my mind for a brief moment and focus entirely on receiving and setting a positive tone for the rest of my day. And while the challenge is remembering to reflect back on that intention throughout the afternoon, I'm always in a calmer and lighter headspace as a result of the practice.

While practicing self-care regularly has been a bit more challenging this year, I find comfort in knowing I can always come back to free and easily accessible resources like these that remind me to slow down, even if it's just for 15 minutes.

-Andria Park Huynh


Gratitude doesn’t come easy to me. Not because I’m ungrateful or lack for things worthy of my gratitude, but because the process of self-reflection is just as likely to lead me to the flipside of gratitude—regret. When you’re someone who microanalyzes every moment, and are blessed/cursed with the kind of memory that lets you relive entirely too much of your life in vivid detail, reflection can be a double-edged sword.

In order to get to a place of gratitude, I end up sifting through all the moments that make me cringe, the times I said the wrong thing, made the wrong decision, or missed an opportunity. Those moments come to mind much faster and easier than the moments that reinforce the goodness of life. The anxiety and doubt provoked by the former are far more visceral than the gentle warmth of the latter. Whether I mean to or not, I get stuck weighing gratitude against regret, with regret always tilting the scales.

Clearly, this may not be the optimal way to practice gratitude, but that’s not to say I don’t get there in the end.

What I've come to realize is that the regret is actually a natural part of the process for me. Without acknowledging the things that went wrong, I can’t fully appreciate the things that went right, or even the simple fact that I made it through all of those just-want-to-crawl-into-a-hole moments in one piece.

It turns out those highly visceral anxiety-provoking moments are really just as mundane as any other event pulled from my everyday life.

So, the way I’m leaning into gratitude this year is by leaning into regret. The same way mental health experts recommend scheduling time for stress, I’m scheduling time to revisit my regrets—if only to remind myself that I’ve survived them in one piece. While the memories might linger, the effects fade as long as I use those regrets to fuel personal growth and self-improvement. Maybe that growth will have me feeling less regretful the next time I decide to look back.

-Nick Ingalls

Definitely Overthinking It

I honestly struggled to come up with something to write about for this exercise, not because I’m not grateful for anything, but because I’m grateful for so much—too much! The realization of this, of my blatant privilege, gave me a sharp pang of guilt and suddenly I was drafting overly cynical analyses about why gratitude exists as a tool for oppression under capitalism. OK Kate, calm down.

Still, it’s true that there can be a dark side to gratitude—let’s call it toxic positivity’s pious cousin—because we can’t just gild our troubles with thanks. If a situation in your life sucks, you still need to recognize it and allow yourself to ache and be angry and sad before an annoying but well-meaning someone steps in and says “Well maybe it would help to focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t?”

On the flip side, even if everything in your life is going great, you can still struggle with feelings of inadequacy or depression. Sometimes, the harder you try to be grateful the more guilty you feel for being sad, which only feeds the monster you’re trying to fight. So how do we harness the power of gratitude in a way that doesn’t involve shame or comparison?

After sitting with these initial reflections—and my apparently complicated relationship with a widely accepted mood-boosting tool—I’ve come to the conclusion that gratitude is less about making a big list of all the things your thankful for and more about taking pause in the little moments that bring you peace.

Despite the popularity of gratitude journals, I believe this is a practice that happens in the moment. It’s a mindfulness exercise in allowing yourself to notice when a moment makes you feel good, no matter how mundane it might seem. A particularly kind stranger? Grateful! That first sip of your cappuccino? Grateful! Witnessing the pure joy of other people’s dogs making friends at the dog park? Grateful! When you pass through the subway turnstile right as your train is pulling up? Grateful! Watching the new episode of your favorite TV show with your partner? Grateful! 

So, if a deeper examination of the good things in life triggers uncomfortable feelings, feel free to simplify. Gratitude can be useful in the most understated ways, and can exist alongside the darker parts of life. And I may have completely overthought this, but it allowed me to reflect on something I hadn’t thought about in a while…and for that, I’m grateful.

-Kate Nelson

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Chen LH, Wu C-H. Gratitude enhances change in athletes’ self-esteem: the moderating role of trust in coachJournal of Applied Sport Psychology. 2014;26(3):349-362. doi:10.1080/10413200.2014.889255