Accessing Joy This Holiday Season Through Practicing Gratitude


Every year as the holiday season approaches, I feel a mixture of emotions. I feel both excited and overwhelmed as I look at my calendar, filled with all of the work, family, school and social obligations.

There is this interesting shift around the holiday season, where it feels like parents are put under pressure to be in this perpetual state of joyful bliss, and for all of their days to be filled with holiday cheer. The problem, as you can imagine, is that the holiday season is typically one of the most stressful times of year for parents. 

When we are dysregulated due to unmanaged stress, it’s very hard to access those feelings of peace and joy, amidst the chaos of a busy life. Some days it seems nearly impossible to be filled with holly-jolly joy. The days turn into weeks, and then months of little challenges that can really wear on a parent’s emotional capacity and mental health. How can we focus on all of the good in our lives, in the midst of a million little stressors, vying to disrupt our inner peace and tranquility? 

For my family, it’s been a tiring season this year so far. We are working parents with two children in diapers. Between the day-to-day grind, recurrent illnesses, and normal kid things (like toddler tantrums and baby sleep regressions), we’re running on little sleep and almost no capacity to do anything beyond just survive on some days; or so it seems. 

What’s the solution?

At this point in my life, more than ever I’ve found the daily practice of gratitude to be a gateway to personal peace and joy. This practice has been especially helpful to navigate the chaos of a busy life, filled with challenges and setbacks, big and small.

What does it look like? 

I typically carve out about 5-10 minutes in my day when I am already doing something else (like driving, praying, meditating, taking a walk or feeding my baby), and I list out three to five things that I am grateful for. This way, I don’t feel pressure to add another to-do item to my daily list. I either do this practice in my head, or out loud. Sometimes if the stars align and I have time, I take out my journal and write them down.

Why is this important?

We’ve known for a long time the importance of our mindset. This is an opinion piece, but there are some cool studies out there that teach us how much of an effect our mindset has on our mood, our mental health and even our physical health.  

A gratitude mindset builds our tolerance for stress and our capacity for resilience. These are qualities that are important for us to model for our kids, especially on the hard days. When we can access our inner peace through being truly grateful for all of the good in our lives, that is the secret (in my opinion) for experiencing joy that spills out of our imperfect, messy lives into those around us, including our children. 

Our children are very sensitive to our energy and our moods. We sometimes spend so much time and energy filling our holiday schedule with events for our family, hoping to squeeze every last ounce of holiday magic out of the season. But if the schedule is so full that it is stressing and tiring us out too much, we won’t have the capacity to access the rest we need to fill our cups. When our cups are filled, we can offer the best of ourselves to our kids. When we are running on empty, we risk missing out on the most precious parts of the holidays that make them so special.   

After all, when it comes to the holiday season, our kids will never remember the gifts, the food or the parties. They will remember precious time with family. They will remember the love and peace that they felt within their own hearts and homes during the holiday season. They will remember the joy. 

How do you access joy during the holiday season?

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Heather Blanton Burns
Heather Blanton Burns lives in Columbia with her husband and daughter. Natives of South Carolina, they love taking road trips to visit family, as well as spending time at the lakes, beaches and mountains nearby. Heather is a Board Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Certified Gentle Sleep Coach. She received her undergraduate degree from the College of Charleston and her doctoral degree from the Medical University of South Carolina. She cares for children of all ages at a small pediatric practice locally. She founded a small business, Cultivating Bright Futures, in 2020 to support mothers through education and provide encouragement for mothers at every step along their motherhood journey. When she’s not working, Heather enjoys reading, spending quality time with family and friends, staying involved in the community through Junior League, eating delicious food at local restaurants, checking out local events in Columbia and staying active through walking, yoga and barre.


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