How to create gratitude and compassion this Christmas

Yesterday was December 21st: the winter solstice. The longest night. A time for looking back at the year just gone, and looking ahead with hope at the year to come. Because from today on, the days get longer again - thankfully, the sun is on its way back.

I always get reflective around now - writing Christmas cards reminds me of old friends I haven’t managed to see this year (yet again); looming New Year’s Resolutions remind me of all the things I still want to achieve (one year I WILL manage to meditate daily, rather than sporadically…).

But this year, my most common thought is one of gratitude. The whirlwind of pre-Christmas celebrations has involved spending time with my nearest and dearest, which has been heart-warmingly wonderful. It has reminded me about the fantastic people I have in my life, collected over the years - from school, university, work, yoga, mums’ groups, my local village. And of course my amazing family, the foundation and core of my life.

So I have decided to tell them what they mean to me. Not through much - just a text to say thank you for being them, and for being there for me. But it has felt like the best present ever, the feeling I get from letting them know I am grateful for them.

So at this time of Christmas chaos, find a tiny moment for gratitude: for your family, friends, your career, your colleagues - whatever brings you comfort and joy. And even if you finding the festive season challenging, which many do - focus on the bits you are grateful for. The science is clear: regularly counting your blessings leads to more positive emotions, helps you feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have a stronger immune system (helpful with all the winter bugs!).

You can take it one step further, and practise the Buddhist compassion meditation Metta Bhavana. Find a quiet place, and take five minutes to mentally beam compassion towards yourself, then towards your loved ones, then towards strangers, and finally towards someone you’ve been angry with - which will inevitably happen at some point over the Christmas season (probably thanks to family tensions on Christmas Day…). You will be surprised at what a difference such a simple technique can make.

The next few days will bring many highs and lows, as well as far too much too eat (I am currently 15% Quality Street and rising). But I hope you get the chance to celebrate the blessings of the year gone by, and to look ahead with hope to the year to come. And if you are struggling, don't forget the organisations that are there to help, including the Samaritans (call 116 123 any time).

From January, expect a return to more practical career inspiration in these regular messages.

But for now, I wish you all a wonderful gratitude- and compassion-filled Christmas, and all health and happiness in 2019.