“Gratitude allows you to take good things in,” says Lisa Lewis, PhD., director of psychology at The Merringer Clinic in Houston and an associate professor in the Merringer Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. “Often good things happen, and we aren’t very mindful when they happen. We get compliments and we brush them off. We get a promotion and all we think about is how stressful it is going to be. Our children go to college and all we can think about is how lonely we are going to be. Gratitude helps us appreciate what we have.”
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That’s right. Being grateful encourages people to think more positively about themselves, their lives and the people around them. Research even shows that gratitude may extend a person’s life.
If you are traveling this holiday season, however, finding things to be grateful or thankful for might be a challenge in the middle of long lines and over-crowded airports, train stations and even hotels. Part of the problem is that many travelers are in the habit of looking at travel as a means of getting from one place to another, rather than an end in itself. There was a time when travel, particularly air travel, was an adventure, a pleasure, even a luxury. Here are a few tips to help holiday travelers recapture the fun of travel and find some things to be grateful for along the way.
- Take your time and plan for delays. Not only will having plenty of time keep you from feeling and being rushed, it will give you time to be pleasant or at least polite to those around you. Last year, 20 percent of planes arrived late in November and nearly 30 percent arrived late in December. So if no delays occur, you already have something to be grateful for.
- Mind your manners. Say “please”, “excuse me” and, of course, “thank you”. Wish others a good day. Hold the door or give up your seat or place in line for someone older or less able. Smile. These are little things, but they can make the difference in someone’s day. Also, if you express a positive, respectful attitude, others will treat you in a similar manner.
- Be prepared. As any Boy Scout will tell you, preparedness is key to any successful adventure. Before you leave home, make sure you know what you need, where it is and that it is easily accessible but not easily lost. Know what is going to be expected from you at every stage of the journey. Carry a couple of copies of your itinerary, contact information, destination information and other relevant information, so that one will always be handy. If you are on medication, make sure you have enough for the duration of the trip, plus a few extra days. You may also want to carry copies of any prescriptions, just in case.
- Know local customs. This might sound like it only applies to international travelers, however, there are cultural differences within the various regions of the U.S. Transportation and other services are readily available 24/7 in some places, while other communities roll up the streets at 11 p.m. This also means knowing what activities you will be expected to participate in and how to dress and act during those activities. Familiarize yourself with local prices and tipping behavior, so you aren’t surprised when the bill arrives and don’t run the risk of overspending.
- Build in some “down time”, especially if visiting and staying with relatives. If you normally participate in a physical activity, whether it’s going to the gym, jogging or taking a yoga, pilates, or dance class, investigate options for pursing that activity while at your destination. Don’t feel compelled to do everything with everyone all the time. You can say no.
- Ship gifts and even luggage, ahead. If you have enough time, consider shipping things ahead that you will not need at home before you leave because, typically, mishandled baggage rates are highest during December and January. With tighter security restrictions, gifts being carried onto a plane should be left unwrapped for security inspection. Traveling with less luggage means less hassle, streamlining your trip and eliminating the worry that you may arrive at your destination while your luggage goes somewhere else.
- Practice moderation. Eating, drinking and being merry sounds good, but in excess it can leave you with a stomachache, a hangover or worse. Take the time to really savor and enjoy what you are eating or drinking and the people you are with.
- Be realistic. Setting your expectations too high is almost guaranteed to lead to disappointment. No one’s life is perfect and everyone’s family has a few oddballs. Even Martha Stewart has a record.
- Pre-arrange child, elder and pet care. The excitement of the holidays can be tough on kids, seniors and pets. Before you arrive, arrange for a daily “escape” for everyone. Do not rely exclusively on older children to baby sit.
- Write it down. It’s easy to focus on the bad, so keep a record of the good, instead. Every night, before you go to bed, write down three things you are grateful for and what you did to contribute to that good thing. Keep it simple. For instance, you might be grateful for someone’s smile when you complemented their outfit.
The holidays, particularly Thanksgiving, are a natural time to express our thanks and gratitude for events, not just from the previous year, but from life.
“Before you dig into the turkey and stuffing, you could all go around the room, and each persona could say what they are grateful for,” Dr. Lewis says. “It doesn’t have to be spectacular. You can be grateful that you can breathe. You can be grateful that you have food on the table. You can be grateful for the simple things, for everyday life. That is really the key.”