Traditionally, the holidays are a time of joy, of exuberance, of family get-togethers. However, it looks like the global pandemic will weigh heavy on this year’s holidays. If anything, restrictions are getting stricter for many, and joy is far down on the list.

The very thought of having to shop for gifts can be daunting, even frightening for some, and what to do in terms of family gatherings when travel is iffy at best, has us bewildered or depressed.

How to Make the Holidays Special

And yet, there is something that we can offer family and friends, even in the absence of all we are used to during the holidays, and that is appreciation.

Not a general sort of “count your blessings” version of appreciation, as valuable as that is, but a very specific “Here’s what I appreciate about you” version. Think about it.

For example, wouldn’t it be nice to receive a genuine “I love your smile” (masked or not)? Or receiving a “How inspired I am by your graciousness,” from a friend or family member? It no doubt would light up your day, make you feel loved and valued.

Well, you can do that for every person on your gift-list, whether you will actually be in their presence or not. Be it by snail-mail, email, or text, sending a brief written expression of your appreciation will give the special people in your life the opportunity of enjoying it over and over. It can be the best present you’ve ever offered.

The Appreciation Gift Affects Our Physical Health

And here’s the thing. Appreciation is good for the heart and mind. No, not just for the person on the receiving end of the appreciation, but for you.

Heart Health

Studies conducted by the HeartMath Institute have shown repeatedly that appreciation is highly conducive to good cardiovascular health.

The person offering appreciation tends to have a steady, regular heartbeat. This in turn allows the heart to accomplish its function well, which produces a cascade of beneficial effects throughout your body.

Brain Health

The impact on your brain when you are feeling appreciation is equally impressive. Your brain requires receiving proper blood flow in order to do its work. When we are experiencing negative emotions such as fear or anger, that flow is restricted.

Our brains can’t work well, impairing our thinking and other functions. But when you are being appreciative, it’s like your brain is operating at peak capacity. Blood flows easily and appropriately to all parts of your brain.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Which is why I call appreciation “the gift that keeps on giving.” Appreciating others not only gives them an emotional boost, it benefits you in so many ways.

Sister Jean, a Catholic nun whose full name is Jean Dolores Schmidt, is still, at 101, the chaplain for the Loyola University (Chicago) basketball team, the Loyola Ramblers.

For 26 years, Sister Jean’s enthusiastic support of the players, her consistent appreciation of each and every one of them, has been a source of constant inspiration. Sister Jean is known for her perpetual smile, which comes easily to her, as she loves people, and is always looking for the good in them.

Sister Jean probably is unaware that the appreciation she gives so generously and constantly has been a huge factor in her longevity. And yet, as science tells us, it must be so.

During the holidays, give the gift that keeps on giving. Express your appreciation with a full and open heart. It may bring some small – or large – measure of joy to those you love.

How do you plan to show appreciation to others over the holidays? Can you provide an example of how expressing appreciation to someone you love (or a complete stranger) made you feel? Has someone shown appreciation to you recently? Please share the experience with our community!

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