Above: “Throwback to [2015] Thanksgiving where [cousin] Dean Valavanis precariously placed his phone on fine crystal.” A memory that makes me smile.

Thank you! Merci! Gracias! Efcharistó!

Whatever your language, showing appreciation will without a doubt, change your life.

In 2014, I entered the holiday season after hitting the reset button on my life. Recently separated and barely unpacked, Christmas came too fast. My kids were coming for dinner, which (in our family) meant early afternoon. I’d made all their favorites and carefully planned every detail. It was getting late and they still hadn’t arrived – I was starting to get upset. Finally, they called to let me know they’d be over closer to 6 o’clock. I wasn’t happy with this change of events. However, it gave me a little down time, so I relaxed with a glass of Baileys, threw a log on the fire and turned on This American Life’s holiday special. It was hysterical. These were stories of failed meals, poignant moments and fun times from various contributors. I thought of memories I hadn’t in a while and it felt good. Before I knew it, the kids arrived and we had a great time.

I didn’t realize it, but this was the start of retraining my brain for positive outcomes. Over the coming winter, I redefined happiness. It was a decision, an action – not a feeling. My expectations of myself and others changed drastically. It was more open-ended, appreciating the smallest of things. There were many moments of fear and hard times, but a new lens of optimism bubbled up.

Wonderful things post-it

My reminder to look for good things from way back when. Still on my mirror.

“I wonder what wonderful things will happen today?” became a bit of a mantra. As I looked for the good, I began to see and experience it. I became more grateful … and eventually happier. {Strange how that works.}

It took consistent effort, starting small and building, but it has become part of who I am.

This year, I met Rachel Desrochers of Grateful Grahams. She’s the Queen of Gratitude. It’s in everything she does and I love her for it. Rachel’s cookie company was created not just to make the best damn grahams you’ve ever put in your mouth, but as she says, “as a vehicle to talk more about gratitude.” Is Rachel’s life perfect? I happen to know that it’s not – and she shares openly about that – but you better believe that gratitude is the prevailing mindset in her home, work and life. It’s inspiring.

She’s even created a Gratitude Journal. I recently downloaded it and am going through it. It’s been refreshing and fun.

This Thanksgiving, we talked with Local 12’s, Sheila Gray about Gratitude from a Mind, Body and Spirit perspective. Included in this segment is Dara O’Loughlin, Yogi at World Peace Yoga. Dara shows how yoga and breathing techniques can help connect your body to gratitude.

Local 12 - Sheila Gray with Rachell, Dara and me

I shared how gratitude affects your brain. Turns out, my home experiment, was not far off… acknowledging good things can actually change your brain chemicals. It’s true. Your brain cannot tell the difference between remembering a positive memory versus thinking about a positive outcome of a future event or even experiencing a happy moment. In the brain, it’s all the same.

When we are grateful, we release dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. That’s why I became calm and happy while listening to other people’s holiday stories. My own memories came to mind – essentially, I was tricking myself into being happy and I didn’t know it.

Since 2001, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has conducted study after study on how gratitude affects the brain. GGSC explores “the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior—the science of a meaningful life.”

In 2017, they did an experiment with 300 students seeking mental health services. Three groups received counseling services, the first group was instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity.

The results are not surprising. Over a period of 12 weeks, the students expressing gratitude in the form of journals, writing letters and seeking opportunities to share thankfulness faired better. Along with therapy, their anxiety and depression was significantly more manageable.

Their conclusion: Gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people and things we do.

Gratitude turns what we have into enough.


Approach this holiday season with gratitude attitude. These are my top 5 tips:

5. Stop Comparing. Watch your social media use. If you are engaging in unhealthy comparison to others – STOP! This goes for watching holiday commercials, movies and tv shows that paint a picture of perfection that leave you frustrated or depressed. You and I both know that no-one’s life is perfect.

4. Look and see! Appreciate the small things. Maya Angelou said, “This is a wonderful day, I’ve never seen this one before.” Take it one day at a time, moment by moment. If you look for good things happening around you, you will see them.

3. Write it down. Download Rachel’s Gratitude Journal and use it OR, along those lines, make a Gratitude Jar or Gratitude Tree. Fill them with all the things you are grateful for. You can do this for yourself or family, friends, co-workers. You can do it for the holidays or all year long. Be sure to read them out loud.

2. Thank someone. Write a Thank You letter to someone who has made a difference in your life. If you want to, send it. Write it – tell that person what they mean to you.

1. GIVE!! Help someone. Share a meal, bake cookies, mentor a kid, encourage a co-worker… the possibilities are endless. The main thing is to lead from your heart and do not expect a thing in return. Keep giving until becomes a habit.

THANK YOU for reading this. I would love it if you’d share ways you show gratitude in the comments below. The more the better.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!



PS Visit Rachel’s site for more tips and ideas.

Do you have a well written mission and vision for your life, leadership, work? If not, let’s talk. I work with people, couples and families in all facets of their life encouraging them to step up, lead and make a difference.

Leading leaders to the greater good.

Contact me at alexia@alexiazigoris.com or visit AlexiaZigoris.com for more.