How to be Grateful During the Holidays -- and All Year Long!

Got gratitude? Of course! There’s nothing like gathering with loved ones around a bountiful holiday table to make us count our blessings. But giving thanks shouldn’t be something we practice once a year; it should be a vital part of our everyday life. Studies show that gratitude can actually improve your health by strengthening your immune system and making you more resilient in the face of crisis.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that adults who have a grateful disposition are less stressed and more energetic and optimistic than those who do not. Being grateful is good for kids too: Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families, according to researchers at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

So how can you cultivate a grateful disposition every day? “Make a conscious choice to be to more grateful,” says Philip Friedman, author of The Forgiveness Solution: The Whole-body Rx for Finding True Happiness, Abundant Love and Inner Peace and a licensed clinical psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, Penn.

Here’s a four-step plan to help you (and your family) develop an attitude of gratitude all year ’round.

1. Start a family gratitude routine.
It’s easy to jump on the complain-train when things are going south, and it’s tough to find the good in a less-than-perfect day. But counting the positives will pay off, so start a new family tradition, suggests Erika Oliver, author of Happy Crap: Unleash the Power of Positive Assumptions and positive approach coach in Kalamazoo, Mich. Every evening, have everyone in the family share three good things about their day -- and do it before you start griping about work or traffic jams.

You’ll soon see that there are plenty of large and small blessings to choose from: You finally connected with a hard-to-reach client, your 8-year-old aced her spelling test, your husband ran into a college pal on his morning commute. Says Dr. Friedman: “If you practice gratitude every day, after a while it becomes second nature.”

2. Find the sunny side of your stresses.
Build your gratitude skills by looking on the positive side of your daily frustrations. Instead of thinking, “I hate all these work deadlines,” tell yourself, “I’m exhausted from work, but I’m blessed to have an interesting job that pays well.” Rather than sighing because you have to rush from a kids’ playdate to a holiday party, say, “It can be stressful having such a full schedule, but we’re so lucky to have all these good friends!”

Consciously shifting your mindset will make it easier over time to be a thankful person. Best of all, it’s contagious. When you maintain a positive attitude, you’ll attract upbeat people and experiences.

3. Be thankful for things that haven’t yet happened.

It’s great to show gratitude for the blessings you have today. Now go one step further by picturing all the good things that still lie ahead, suggests Friedman.

Once a week, close your eyes and imagine that you’re standing on a carpet of gratitude. Then imagine that you’re walking down the carpet past all the wonderful experiences that await you: a dream job, your wedding day, the birth of your child, a trip to Paris. By thanking the universe for blessings in advance, you’ll develop a sense of gratitude even when things don’t seem to be going your way.

4. Go public.
Don’t keep your thanks to yourself! Post a gratitude statement as your status update on Facebook or Twitter every week. Examples: “I’m grateful my son got the teacher he wanted for 4th grade. He can’t wait to go to school in the morning!” or “Just enjoyed some yummy risotto. I’m so happy my husband is a great cook!” As Friedman notes, “Your Facebook friends will like and comment on your status, reinforcing your gratitude attitude.”

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/sjlocke

Holiday Decorating on a Budget

’Tis the season to deck the halls with boughs of holly -- and icicle lights, inflatable Santas, tons of ornaments and other trimmings.

In these money-tight times, decorating can put a real strain on your budget. Fortunately, there’s an alternative to overspending on decorations -- and you don’t have to become as miserly as Scrooge to do it. The key is to change your expectations and pare down.

“You don’t need a perfectly coordinated house to have a special holiday, and you’ll get back to the true spirit of the holidays by rethinking your spending,” says Tracey McBride, author of Frugal Luxuries by the Seasons. “Plus, when you simplify your decorations, you’ll feel less stressed and overwhelmed.” This year, follow McBride’s tips to make your home merry and bright -- on a budget.

Get Your Family Involved
Ask your husband and children to tell you their favorite holiday decorations. You’ll find out what really matters (cookies, a spectacular tree) and what doesn’t (perfectly wrapped presents). “Kids like it when you ask about, and respect, their opinions,” says McBride. Plus, “involving them will prepare them for the fact that your decorations will be simpler this year.”

Repurpose Household Items
Instead of buying more knickknacks that will sit in your closet the other 11 months of the year, find alternative uses for what you already have. An old quilt can become a charming tree skirt; sheets and shirts from the rag pile can be ripped and tied into rustic bows; a garden urn can hold a mini-tree; and baskets can display gifts. Think creatively. “You have to wrap presents anyway, so why not use them for decoration too?” says McBride.

Display Edible Decor
Arrange the season’s vibrant produce -- apples, pomegranates, squash, oranges -- in a crystal bowl for a stunning centerpiece. Include a few ornaments or cut flowers for extra pop. “After you’re done with the decoration, you can eat it. That way, you don’t waste anything,” says McBride.

Shop Smart
Hit the dollar store and stock up on inexpensive candles (white ones look elegant, and leftovers can be used throughout the year), doilies (staple them to a streamer for a snow-like banner) and ribbon. Garage and estate sales also yield great bargains. “Make a list before you go so you don’t fill up on junk you don’t need,” cautions McBride. “Spending just a dollar extra is still a waste.”

Let Nature Inspire You
Mother Nature is the best decorator, so use her supplies to create a cozy, wintry atmosphere. Arrange sprigs of evergreen, holly and aromatic herbs, such as rosemary, in a vintage water pitcher. Display a pyramid of pinecones on your grandmother’s china and hang mini-bouquets of greenery on door frames. After the holidays, go green and use the foliage as compost!

Dress up Family Photos
The holidays are all about family, so honor that tradition by making your photos part of the decor. Wrap wall frames with ribbon (tie it around opposite corners so you don’t obscure the image) or top frames with pine boughs. Print out pictures of past holiday gatherings and hang them from the tree, or string them along a ribbon for a photo garland.

Limit the Lights
Stringing lights all over your house can bump up your utility bill by hundreds of dollars, so cut back this year. Frame a few street-facing windows with lights and turn them off before going to bed for energy savings that are good for your budget and the environment. McBride recommends investing in LED lights, which use one-third less electricity and don’t burn out as quickly as conventional ones.

Now that you’re not stressing over the time, money and energy for decorating, you can focus on what’s really important this holiday season!

Oops! Help for Embarrassing Conditions

Bad breath, sweating, incontinence, gas … they’re the punch lines of a lot of jokes, but in real life, they’re so humiliating you don’t dare admit them to anyone. However, if you do experience any of these problems regularly, it’s important to let your doctor know. “We talk about things that are embarrassing and private all the time,” says Dr. Kenneth L. Savage Jr., an osteopathic physician at the University Community Hospital in Tampa, Fla. Read on to learn more about your most hush-hush health issues.

Foul Breath
If you’re constantly popping breath mints and you haven’t seen your dentist recently, you might want to schedule an appointment, says Savage. Bad breath can be a sign of periodontal disease or other dental trouble. Brush and floss regularly, and drink plenty of water to wash away odor-causing bacteria.

It’s also possible that the problem lies farther south. Foul breath can be caused by inefficient digestion that leaves food in your stomach, says Dr. William LaTorre, a chiropractor and holistic practitioner who heads the LaTorre Wellness Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. Probiotics or digestive-enzyme supplements can help.

Finally, bad breath can be a symptom of a more serious condition like acid reflux or diabetes, so talk to your doctor if it doesn’t go away. “A sweet but pungent odor can be a sign of high blood sugar,” Savage says.

Too Much Sweat
Excess perspiration isn’t just a matter of underarm stains on your shirt. Your entire body -- including your hands, feet, face, chest and back -- can be affected. Sweating can be caused by a number of factors: genetics, hormonal imbalance, thyroid conditions, stress, menopause, or even too much spicy food, so it’s best to see your doctor to find the source. Prescription antiperspirants and deodorants can help in some cases, Savage says. For sweating that doesn’t respond to topical treatment, there are other medical options, such as Botox injections.

Loss of Control
Stress incontinence (the fancy name for leaking urine) can happen when you sneeze, cough, laugh, or even stand and sit -- all of which change the pressure the abdominal muscles exert on the bladder, Savage says. The tissues and muscles of the pelvic floor can loosen over time, particularly if you’ve had children or are experiencing menopause.

Fortunately, the solution can be as simple as cutting back on caffeine and taking frequent bathroom breaks. Try Kegel exercises, too: Tense your pelvic floor muscles (as if you were trying to hold back urine), hold for a count of five, and then relax. Try five reps to start, and then work up to 10. For more severe cases, options include wearing sanitary pads or a pessary (a diaphragm-like supportive device), taking medication, or getting surgery.

Burping … and Worse
We’ve all been humiliated by an earth-shaking belch or a room-clearing you-know-what. Fortunately, excessive flatulence or gas on its own is rarely serious, Savage says, and most likely the problem stems from diet. Fast foods, processed meals and simple carbohydrates like white bread can produce unwanted gas, but so can healthier fare like beans, broccoli and peppers.

Savage recommends getting to know which foods don’t agree with you, then cutting down on them while also boosting your intake of water and fiber. You can also prevent gas by taking a supplement before meals. But if you’re experiencing abdominal pain, diarrhea or other intestinal trouble in addition to your gas, it’s time to visit a gastroenterologist to pinpoint the deeper problem behind it.

How to Stop Being Late

Some people find it virtually impossible to be on time. No matter how important the event, they’re always in a mad dash and get there late -- or just under the wire. Sound familiar? Maybe you need to reset your internal clock and stop being late before chronic tardiness costs you a friendship, a promotion or a reputation.

Why do we run behind schedule? “Some people get a psychological boost from that last-minute sprint to the finish line,” says Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged. “These people have difficulty motivating themselves without that crisis.” Others are “producers” who cram so much into their day that they don’t give themselves enough time to get to meetings or lunches. And some folks are chronic procrastinators who find that it feels good to put things off.

“No matter how you look at it, whether we’re talking about a psychologically or emotionally based issue, or even a functional brain issue, it’s an underlying symptom of a larger problem,” says Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical College and the author of The Ripple Effect.

To figure out what’s behind your lateness, “start by asking some tough questions to figure out which one applies,” says Saltz. The answers will help clue you in to your punctuality personality so you can change your ways. Here’s how:

Question: Do you always do one or two little chores before heading out because “it only takes a minute”?

Solution: Get real about time.
Chronic latecomers underestimate -- by 25 to 30 percent -- how long it takes to perform tasks. Keep a log of how long it really takes you to get dressed, get to work or run an errand, and then adjust your schedule accordingly. If your morning habit of emptying the dishwasher or checking email is cutting into your commuting time, cut it out.

Question: Do you prefer to arrive after everyone else because you get antsy waiting for them to show up?

Solution: Welcome the wait.

Arrive early and consider that extra time a luxury. Read a book, check your smartphone or just gather your thoughts.

Question: If your job interview is at 10:30 a.m., or if the kids have to be picked up from school at 3:00 p.m., do you arrive right on the dot?

Solution: Plan to never be right on time.

You’re not leaving enough wiggle room for unexpected delays. Instead, make it your goal to arrive 10 minutes early to wherever you have to be. Once you’ve added in this cushion, you should rarely run behind.

Question: Do you run behind mainly with one person?

Solution: Rethink your relationships.
Time to figure out why you’re always late with this person and deal with it, says Saltz. Your lateness may be a way of saying you’re still upset with your sister over a past disagreement, or that you’re not enjoying a friend’s company as much as you once did. Once you work on the relationship -- or end one that’s not working -- the punctuality problem should improve.

Question: Are you the sort who puts off dull chores?

Solution: Create a time mantra.

Come up with a short phrase you can repeat when you’re tempted to procrastinate: “If I get it done now, I won’t have to worry about it later,” or “Early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable.” This should put you in the mindset to complete the task at hand and move on.