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When I ask people how they feel in anticipation of getting together with their siblings, their parents, aunts and uncles, they say it depends on which side of the family you’re talking about. As you gather with family, you may also notice a “family of emotions” that starts to stir inside you.

The truth is that the holidays can often be a mix of emotions. You may start off with anticipation and excitement and then rapidly find yourself feeling unheard and disappointed by the end of a meal. One word I often hear is dread when I ask people about family at the holidays. “I’m dreading getting together with family. What if my dad says something rude or inappropriate? What if my sister blurts out something I told her she wasn’t supposed to say?” So many unknowns with those of our closest tribe: family.

Most of this can be eliminated as we acknowledge that everyone just wants to feel heard, valued, and appreciated. Wouldn’t you say that’s important to you? Even when it doesn’t seem that way, we’re all looking to be loved.

The simple act of both giving and receiving appreciation can create more space for what you want in your togetherness. The key to eliminating defensiveness that might come up when you talk or think you’re being attacked is your awareness and being able to choose your attitude. Your perspective is going to make all the difference.

What if you shifted this holiday to an attitude of gratitude and got back to what matters most to you? Just like your breath, gratitude is one of the most abundant, low cost, and effective ways to shift your internal state of being and your emotions, so you can get what you want. Reflecting on what you’re grateful for will undoubtedly shift the focus from what you don’t have or are not getting to what you do have.

Now that’s not always going to be enough, especially when you’re sitting around the dinner table and Aunt Mary says something that really gets under your skin—and everyone’s looking at each other as the whites of their eyeballs are getting bigger.

The interesting thing about gratitude is that you need to invite it in at the very moment that it seems counterintuitive. Now, it’s one thing to feel thankful when there’s money in the bank, you’re celebrating, or you’ve just lost your last 15 pounds. But how do you feel when your bank account’s overdrawn, your partner just left, or you just received a devastating diagnosis?

Gratitude deserves a permanent seat at the table with your family of emotions. Because it leads you back to your heart and what’s most important. It will also give you a clue about what your next step should be.

For a while, I wrote down three things I was grateful for each day. That practice had me looking for and noticing the events, activities, people and conversations I really appreciated. That reflection taught me that the milestones during my day were sacred. I started feeling happier and more joyful just by expanding my perspective and recognizing the gifts in my life.

Now this might not be enough. It might be the beginning, but you may say, “Oh, I’ve already done that. I want to go further.” Dr. Gary Chapman wrote The Five Love Languages, which I think is amazing. Dr. Chapman says there are five ways that people give and receive love. The first one is words of affirmation, so acknowledging through spoken word, or in writing, in email or an old-fashioned card. The second way that people feel loved is by spending quality time and sharing, or making time to do an experience together. The third way is gifts—monetary, jewelry, or sentimental value, like a little kid picking flowers or drawing a picture and giving it to someone. The fourth way is acts of service—doing kind deeds such as making a meal for someone, taking care of them or the house or the car. The fifth way is physical touch, even as simple as a gentle hand on the shoulder to just connect.

It’s important to know how you feel appreciated and valued. If you don’t know, you should definitely answer the questions in his book (or online) to find out which way is your way of feeling loved.

How about if we do an exercise right now? Reflect on a time when you were deeply touched by someone else’s gesture. Maybe it was your best friend, or a teacher or a mentor. What made this action that they took feel special, and what aspect of caring means the most to you?

Next, acknowledge how other people in your life have shown their love and appreciation, even if it’s not in the way that you receive. Make sure you thank them for that. And if another way of showing appreciation would work better for you, it’s time to muster the courage to tell them what that is. Now that you know this, start to pay attention to how other people best receive love and give to them in the way that they receive. If you don’t know what that is, make it easy on yourself and just ask.

Thank you so much for bringing your awareness to gratitude today. Choose one person with whom you’d like to create a stronger relationship, and pay attention to giving to them love and appreciation in the way that they receive it best. If you do this repeatedly, maybe once a week for a month, I’d love to know how it goes for you.

Send me your questions—drop me a tweet at #askdoctorneha or write your question and comments down below.

Awareness Prescription

Who in your life has made a difference, and how can you acknowledge him or her today? (And, yes, I mean out loud.)

Making the world better one conversation at a time,

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