Gift-giving traditions can be observed all throughout the modern world and often have their roots in history. More recent research has shown that tradition may not be the only reason we continue to engage in gift-giving traditions, and it's all linked to feel-good responses within the brain. Research has shown that practicing gratitude can strengthen resilience and positively impact mental health. At This Works, we know how stressful the Christmas period can become- from finding the perfect present to remembering to order your Turkey on time. We believe gratitude practice could be just the thing to help us manage our stress throughout the festive season and allow us to immerse ourselves in the festive season.1

So why wait to practice gratitude on Christmas day? Showing, feeling, and saying ‘thank you’ on a daily basis over the months that lead up to the festive holidays, can be one of many practical steps you can take to counter the stresses of the busiest, darkest, and most frenetic times of the year.

[1]. Emmons, R.A, & McCullough, M. E. (2012). The Psychology of Gratitude. In the Psychology of Gratitude.

Gifting Traditions
Gift-giving encourages and strengthens relationships by fostering community feeling.
Throughout history, gifts have been a way to show respect, such as foreign diplomats to reigning monarchs, and nowadays between presidents and prime ministers. Anthropologists studying Massim people in Papua New Guinea explained how the exchange of gifts that had no commercial value served to create a cycle of mutual responsibilities, resulting in a network of reciprocal relationships encompassing the entire community.2
Furthermore, studies have shown that spending money on others lights up the reward centers of the brain and feels better than splurging on ourselves. Neuroscientists have found that the joy of giving a gift lasts longer than the fleeting pleasure of accepting it. Therefore, giving gifts allows us to share in others' joy and arguably feel good for longer than the fleeting pleasure of accepting one. 3,4
Why practice gratitude?
Research has shown that when we express gratitude for a gift or kind deed, the brain of the gratitude giver releases a powerful wave of neurotransmitters including oxytocin and serotonin into our nervous system. These neurotransmitters which are responsible for feelings of pleasure, happiness, and calm, provide you with a feeling of security and belonging, and positive emotion which affect your physical and mental health and will have a direct impact on those around you. However, receiving gratitude has a measurably larger impact on our subjective well-being- especially when gratitude practice is done regularly.1
Studies have also shown that regular gratitude practice can help to shift the way that our brains respond to trauma (past, present, and future) providing a powerful resilience towards stressful situations and gradually building a defence mechanism within our neural network that allows us to find more joy and positivity. Once practiced regularly, gratitude can actually help to tip the balance of our neural circuits allowing us to feel more consistently happy. There are relationship benefits too – there is a wealth of scientific evidence to suggest that a healthy gratitude practice encourages pro-social behavior, enhancing your relationships at home and at work.5,6,7
So, how can we bring mood enhancing grattitude into our lives every day of the year?
Practicing gratitude two to three times a week has been shown to have a positive effect on your well-being- but it's important to follow the right gratitude practice. Contrary to what you might think reminding ourselves what we have that we should be grateful for, whilst important, isn't the best way to unlock the mindful benefits of gratitude. The best gratitude practice includes:
1. A narrative or story
Practicing gratitude in this way activates the medial prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for setting context to your experiences and is able to positively affect the neurotransmitters that are released into your system.
2. Receiving gratitude
Your gratitude practice works best when you are thinking of a narrative or story that involves you receiving gratitude and has been shown to be more effective in shifting pro-social circuits than expressing thanks. The practice works just as well if your story includes yourself receiving gratitude or you observing someone else receiving gratitude. For the practice to be more effective this story must be a true experience. This is because we are unable to lie to ourselves- if the story is not true activation of the medial prefrontal cortex will be limited and therefore the benefits are not as great.
3. 3 or 4 bullet points
Write down 3 or 4 bullet points to serve as cues for your gratitude story, include things such as the emotional state of the person, or yourself before gratitude was received and afterward to allow you to emotionally connect with the narrative.
4. Read your story 3 times a week
Read or speak your personal gratitude narrative 3 times a week allowing yourself to feel the emotional states.