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Finding Joy Through Gratitude this Holiday Season

canstockphoto7856078I recently listened to a fabulous podcast where Brene Brown was being interviewed. (For those of you that don’t know, Brene Brown is a very well known therapist, researcher, and author. She has written several, brilliant books about embracing vulnerability and recognizing the difference between guilt and shame. Her books have had a big impact on my personal and professional life. I highly recommend all of them.) In the podcast Brene focused on being comfortable in experiencing vulnerable emotions. In particular she spoke about joy.
In Brene’s research she stated that joy was often associated with fear. Her example was simple, but profound. She spoke of a parent lovingly watching their child sleep at night. In that moment of joyful contemplation the parents often reported a high degree of fear right after having the feeling of joy/contentment. What if my child dies at an early age? What if I contract cancer? Everything is so good right now, something has to go wrong soon. When I heard this example I knew exactly what she was talking about! I have had those same thoughts and feelings as I tucked my children into bed. As I thought about it, a lot of times I feel joy I realized it was very often followed up with fearful thoughts that my happiness could only last so long before something went wrong.
The answer to challenging this commonplace problem showed up in Brene’s same research project. She stated there were a number of people that reported after they had joyful feelings they purposely stated thoughts of gratitude to themselves. Instead of leaving the situation feeling fearful and worried, like so many did and do, this second group of people reported feeling joyful, happy, and grateful. These people made mention of giving gratitude to a higher being, a thoughtful spouse, their jobs, health, and many other things that allowed them to feel happiness in that moment. 
 I took this to heart. Over the last week or two when I have noticed feeling happy with my family, marriage, house, holiday season, or really anything, instead of following up with a negative or fearful thought I immediately stated how grateful I was in the moment for that joyful feeling. What a difference! It seemed like the joy I was feeling multiplied and lingered much longer than when I had chaotically thought about what may go “wrong” next to ruin my happiness. It has made me a better wife, mother, friend, and daughter to practice this easy technique.  
This holiday season I challenge you to experience true joy. In those loud or often quiet moments when you find yourself feeling happy, follow those thoughts/feelings up with thoughts of gratitude. Why are you happy? Who helped you achieve that happiness? Why are you grateful for having the joyful feeling?  Extend your Thanksgiving list of gratitude into the Christmas season, and notice the difference it will make. 

What Do I Have To Be Grateful For?

canstockphoto7797192The cooler fall air is the first indicator that the season of thankfulness and gratitude is upon us, but what if you don’t feel that you have anything to be grateful for this year? Perhaps your life has been plagued by chaos and uncertainty. Grief, job loss, depression, problematic relationships, and isolation are just a few of the things that can lead to feelings of apathy towards life and general ungratefulness. How can we combat this discontent and find gratitude and joy again?

Start as You Mean to Go

This is a phrase that I use often for a number of situations, but I think that it is particularly applicable when talking about gratitude. Simply begin your day as you want it to go for the remainder. Make the choice of gratitude as soon as you wake in the morning. Before you climb out of bed to begin your day, take a moment and find one thing, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential it may be, for which you are thankful. This choice to start with a grateful heart will set the tone for the day.

Stop and Smell the Roses

An overly used cliché, I know, but it’s true. It’s hard to be truly grateful if we are so busy living that we don’t take the time to appreciate the little things that make life worth living. Be mindful of what is happening around you, and take the time to truly experience and appreciate the small blessings, victories, and learning opportunities that life has to offer.

Look Outside Yourself

What better way to forget about our problems than to look around and see the problems that other people are dealing with? This isn’t to say that we should take joy in others’ pain and suffering, but to use it to put our problems into perspective. Stepping outside of ourselves and helping those that are less fortunate enables us to really appreciate the good in our lives, as meager as it may be, and also to recognize that there is always someone that has less.

Find a Purpose

Find a purpose in life that gives your life meaning. Maybe this means volunteering your time to a cause that is close to your heart, finding fulfillment in your family or career, or deciding to go back to school. The possibilities are endless. Whatever your direction, find something which you are passionate and excited about and share it.

Have an Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude is a choice. Choose a life of gratitude by having an attitude of gratitude that starts as soon as you wake in the morning. Find the things that you appreciate about your life and celebrate them, no matter the size. Slow down and take the time to seek out and appreciate the lessons that life has to offer, even the hard ones. Life is hard, and there are plenty of opportunities to get down, but look to others to gain insight and perspective of your challenges. Lastly, find your purpose. We aren’t all going to find a cure for cancer or negotiate world peace, but we all have the chance to leave this world better than we found it.


4 Easy Ways To Strengthen Your Marriage: Good Things Utah

4 Easy Ways To Strengthen Your Marriage: Good Things Utah

When we think of strengthening our marriage relationship, it’s easy to think of big, dramatic actions, like going to therapy or buying expensive gifts for our spouse, but renowned marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman says that it’s actually the little things that make all the difference. Here are 4 easy ways to improve your marriage:


Stop Over-Thinking!

Woman Relaxing Yoga

What occupies your thoughts throughout the day? I’m sure that you, like me,
are peacefully present in each moment of time- enjoying the company, conversations,
and sensory experiences around you. Ha! While that sounds delightful, I admit that I
struggle to turn off my busy brain and just be. I know I’m not alone, because “overanalyzing”
and constant mind-chatter are common complaints I hear from clients and
friends. The seriousness of the problem can range from simple unwanted worry to
obsessive over-thinking that can cause insomnia and major anxiety. If you relate to the
plight of the over-analyzer, I have good news. There are many therapeutic techniques
that, when done consistently, result in a more peaceful and present thought process.


When Perfectionism Becomes Toxic

Wasatch Family Therapy Woman

Self-evaluation can be a good thing when it helps us to move towards a goal.  However, there is a vast difference between, “I need to spend more time with my family” and “I’m a terrible mother.”  Excessive self-criticism backfires because it leads us to focus on our so-called failures instead of the simple ways that we could progress.


In Law Etiquette for Young Couples

Have you ever been to a fancy restaurant and felt uncomfortable because you don’t know what to do with the vast quantity of silverware?  A quick refresher on etiquette can be helpful in that situation.  Similarly, these ensuing tips will help young couples (and all family members involved) in dealing with the uncertainty that comes with having in-laws.  I like to call it “In-Law Etiquette.”

First of all, it is important to remember that every family is different.  We are very quick to label something that is different as “weird,” or “bad.”  However, just because something is different doesn’t mean that it is better or worse.  It is just different!  Branch out and have fun with the differences between family cultures.  Also, avoid labeling your in-law’s culture as strange, stupid, or dumb.  It can even be healthy to poke fun at your own family culture.


Give Yourself the Gift of Gratitude

“What are the benefits of feeling and expressing gratitude?” It turns out grateful people have an edge over the not-so-grateful when it comes to physical and mental health, according to several recent psychological studies.  They tend to exercise more regularly, eat healthier diets, and get a boost to their immune system.  In addition, feelings of thankfulness have a tremendous positive value in helping people deal with increased stress and anxiety which are associated with the holidays.  Gratitude can also serve as a buffer against symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) such as sadness and depression which tend to build up slowly in late autumn and into the winter months.

Wasatch Family Therapy

What better time to reflect of gratitude than during the fast approaching holiday season.  Amid the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, mindfully take a few minutes to slow down, breathe deep, and reflect upon the many blessings in your life.  You can start today to grow your feelings of gratitude.  Here’s how:

  • Keep a Gratitude Journal.The simple act of writing down a few things on a daily or weekly basis for which you are grateful is a great way to feel better about your life as a whole and to feel more optimistic about the future.
  •  Count Your Blessings.  This list may include family, friends, freedom, spiritual convictions, hobbies, talents, and material comforts.  After writing everything that comes to mind, ask yourself, “To what extent do I take these for granted?”  Tuck this list away and pull it out whenever you’re feeling down in the dumps.  This is an excellent reminder of the good things in your life.
  •   Try a Positive Reframe.   When faced with a challenging situation, see how it could ultimately be beneficial.  For example, if you are having a particularly hard time getting along with a neighbor or coworker, rather than complaining that the person is “trying” your patience look at it as an opportunity to “improve” your patience.
  •  Graciously Accept Gratitude from Other People.  Society has taught us to dismiss the gratitude directed towards us as unnecessary.  Saying things such as, “No problem; it was nothing,” or “No thanks is necessary,” robs others of the benefits of showing gratitude.  A simple, “You’re welcome,” lets people know you appreciate being thanked.

As you incorporate these few ideas into your life, I hope you will find – as I have – that life will become richer and more satisfying this holiday season by expressing gratitude to loved ones and by giving thanks for all that blesses your life.  Happy Holidays!


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Encouraging Your “Little Turkeys” To Be Grateful

Jill Zuinga Wasatch Family Therapy

Jill Zuniga, APC

As we approach one of the busiest times of the year, I have noticed how easy it is to get caught up in Christmas shopping or decorating and cleaning house (not to mention countless hours spent in cooking!) to prepare for hosting this year’s “holiday get-together”! Then of course, there’s always wrapping gifts – my LEAST favorite of all of the above. We have so much to accomplish in just a short amount of time that we sometimes forget to be thankful for what we have been given and maybe most importantly, forget to teach our children that very same thing.

Research shows that children learn best when they are able to physically experience the objective of a lesson and/or creatively express themselves regarding what they’ve learned. The following are a few ideas of things that will help teaching your children to be thankful for the blessings in their lives more easily understood and definitely more fun! In fact, I am quite sure that if you make the time to do something like this with your child, you will also be reminded of your own thankfulness for what you have been given in your own life!

1 – Make a Thankful Paper Chain:

This is just like the paper chains that kids make at school with colored construction paper strips linked and glued together. Cut out the strips of paper and have your child write or draw pictures of things they are thankful for – their family members or friends, their teacher, their pets, maybe even a special toy they have been given and the person that gave it to them! Make the chain as long as you possibly can. This will help your child become aware of the many things they have in their lives to be thankful for. Don’t forget to go through the chain periodically with your child throughout the season so that they begin to understand that being thankful for the blessings in their life is a continual thing.

2 – Volunteer Work:

This can be an entire family event that can be an incredible experience for everyone involved! Contact your local Red Cross, soup kitchens, homeless centers and churches and see what you can do to help them reach out to those in need this holiday season. Try getting together with your neighbors and friends to put together Thanksgiving boxes – complete with all of the necessary ingredients to make a turkey dinner – and deliver them to families who may not have the money to have a big dinner this year.

3 – Make a Thanksgiving Tree:

Cut out a large brown tree trunk with tree branches sprouting above. Then have each person in your family trace and cut out their own hands in various fall colors (red, orange, yellow and brown). On each of their hand cut-outs, have them write down various things they are thankful for. After everyone has completed this step, then allow each person to choose the placement of their hand onto the different branches to create a colorful fall tree. Hang this in a prominent area in your home, where it can be easily seen. It will serve as a constant reminder of the many things to be thankful for.

As with so many situations with children they do learn a lot by watching those around them so be sure to try to model the things you hope they pick up. Participate in the activities just as you are expecting them to and talk about the things that you are thankful for. Give them examples to look to and help them understand that these are things that they can appreciate throughout the whole year, not just at Thanksgiving.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

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