Insights: The Gift of Gratitude

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Hal Landon Jr. and Richard Doyle
Hal Landon Jr. and Richard Doyle

If you have not seen “A Christmas Carol” at South Coast Repertory, get tickets and go—if you can still get tickets. It is an incredibly well done show, as good as a Broadway production.

“A Christmas Carol” contains many lessons, including how focusing on ourselves, money and isolation creates a life with little fulfillment in it.

When money, status or appearance are our priority, we will continue searching because we’ll never have enough money, be attractive enough or have enough status to create a feeling of joy.

Instead, we should think of others, give back and be grateful.

Remember in “A Christmas Carol” how unhappy Scrooge was when he focused on his money? When he started to think of others, he was just naturally happier. What is the secret here?

The science of giving back and gratitude shows that just three minutes a day of feeling grateful, over the course of two weeks, changes the brain to be wired more naturally to doing good and feeling more grateful, and in turn more joy.

What is fascinating to me is that if you do not work on feeling grateful and giving back, your brain will not create it.

Author William Faulkner wrote, “Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist as all.”

That means it is something we have to not only create, but also something we have use for.

So it is the same philosophy for anything: if you do not use it you lose it. And the more you use it the stronger it will become.

The more we work our gratitude muscle, the more flexible and moldable our brain becomes. Amazing isn’t it!

Let’s now take this concept and implement it into gift giving in the holidays.

I do not like the stress of having to buy gifts but I love to give people something that is meaningful.

One of my favorite gifts I’ve received came from my daughter. She made me a year of adventures to do together every month. I could not open the envelope until the beginning of each month; she had researched what was fun to do that month in our area. I will never forget that gift.

Need ideas for meaningful gifts?

Plan a trip to somewhere you both want to go (could be a day trip, a hike, a long weekend, a picnic, swimming at the beach, etc.).

Bake their favorite dish. I have a friend who loves receiving my traditional New Zealand dessert each year. Means more to her than anything I could buy.

Do something that the other person does not like doing: design a website, knit them a hat and scarf, pull weeds from their garden.

Set a day aside to create a dream board or goals together. Write them a personal letter of what your relationship means. Create a scrapbook for them. Make some personalized stationary on your printer. Give them your favorite book and write a personal message in it. Promise to walk Crystal Cove beach weekly, giving each person time to share their week.

Or what about a visit to Rogers Garden, picking a plant for each other’s garden and sending a donation to that person’s favorite charity. Create a coupon book with small things you will do for the other person such as a shoulder rub, making brownies, or go for a walk together.

Write a list of all you are grateful for with that person. People need and want to be seen and experienced. And when creating these gifts, think about how good you will feel giving the gifts, and how good they will feel receiving these gifts.

Contact Dr. Zavala at [email protected] or

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