I had a great holiday, and hope you did too. I’ve heard a lot of talk about how hard they are for many folks, and they sure can be. They have been for me, too, from time to time. Like Christmas 2011, when my mom was dying of cancer and the family was going into shock. That was a tough one, astronomically tough.

What got us through, then and now—and added a measure of joy in a dark place? Being damned grateful.

A few years ago my child’s father and I and I started a practice of telling each other at least two nice things at the end of the day, just before we fell asleep. We always ended up discovering many more than two. We are apart now, but I still do this as often as I can. It is a small act that has slowly sent ripples of immense change through my life.

I met a beautiful man, you know the kind, who blows your mind with his calm, his humor, his gentlemanliness, his healthy good looks and intelligent conversation. I found out he was with someone; I said to the friend who had to break the news: “I am just glad to know there are such men in the world.”

I wasn’t trying to be all New Age or anything. I was truly glad, and then I got on with my day with a light heart. Only later did I think, “Hey! Ten years ago I would have been whining about how all the good ones were taken. Nice change. This feels much better.” And then I got on with my day with an even lighter heart.

While Mom was dying, I could say to people, “It isn’t all that common for someone to know her mother for forty-one years. I have had that privilege.”

I have learned that making a habit of being genuinely grateful for things has changed my baseline mood from fighting depression to contentedly cheerful. Even though we didn’t work out in the long run, my child’s father and I prevented a lot of bedtime fights by adopting this practice. Now that we’re over, I give thanks for all kinds of things our relationship gave me—the experience of being loved for so long, as well as greater moral courage and self-confidence, greater patience and clarity, and of course this little practice. I give thanks, too, for having chosen someone who would be so loyal to both his children, and a strong co-parent. I bet we both give thanks for being out of each other’s hair.

I have heard that people have done studies on how a gratitude practice increases health and wellbeing and la la la. That’s nice, especially if someone got paid to do them. I say, try it yourself, for an appreciable period, like from solstice to solstice or something. Then decide for yourself. I can see what it has done for me, and, well . . . I am grateful for it.

What do you do to lighten your heart, especially during the holidays?