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Turn Holiday Resentment into Gratitude! 11 Simple Strategies

Resentment can ruin your holiday experience. Here's how to get beyond it.

Image by Chrysalizabeth, pixabay, CC0
Source: Image by Chrysalizabeth, pixabay, CC0

You didn’t get invited to a holiday party. Your parents gave your sister a better gift than they gave you. The gift from your Significant Other was a dud—what was she thinking!?

Oh, the joy of the holidays! There are so many little ways to feel hurt, forgotten, or unloved. In addition, few families can match up to the idealized family celebrations on TV shows or in ads that may make you wonder why YOU are missing out on the glamour, abundance, and love that everyone else seems to possess. Ironic, isn’t it, that we feel so much ill will in the season of good will?

Holiday time is the perfect set-up for the unpleasant emotion of resentment and its close cousin, self-pity. Although some of our hurts may seem small, hurt feelings are real and cause suffering, both mental and physical. If you let them, these feelings can undermine your holiday fun and good spirits and even seep like sewage into the New Year.

“Resentment” is defined as “indignation or ill will felt as a result of a real or imagined grievance.” Unpleasant as it may be, resentment, like all feelings, serves a purpose. The purpose of resentment is to alert you to a possible injustice, however minor. But if you let your resentment occupy too much mental real estate, you could become envious and unhappy.

Don’t let that happen! Instead, challenge yourself to replace resentment with gratitude. Yes, thankfully, it’s possible to make that change. Transforming resentment into gratitude takes a little practice, but by the end of this blog, you’ll know 11 effective ways to do it. Note that the first two strategies smooth the path for all the rest:

  1. Become aware of your resentful feelings. Let yourself know when you are feeling resentment. Otherwise your resentment will remain an automatic thought, simmering below the surface of consciousness and making you miserable without your fully knowing why. Be grateful that you can be honest about such a difficult feeling.
  2. Decide to change that feeling. Next, make the conscious decision to change. Ask yourself, “Do I want to feel resentful or grateful?” If you choose “resentful,” you probably need more time to process your feelings. If you choose “grateful,” you are ready for the ideas below.
  3. Turn resentments into requests. Assertiveness is the enemy of resentment. Stop expecting people to read your mind and tell them specifically what you would like to happen. If you speak up right away, you won’t need to feel those lingering feelings of hurt and indignation. Example: If your Significant Other isn’t good at choosing gifts, give her a few ideas to help her out. (More tips on assertive phrases here.) Even if you don’t get what you want, you’ll feel empowered rather than victimized just because you spoke up.
  4. Remind yourself that others are having the same experiences. Recalling that the hurts of exclusion, unfairness, and lack of acknowledgment are part of the universal human experience will not take away your feelings, but it will take the edge off.
  5. Be kind to yourself. When you catch self-critical thoughts, replace them with thoughts that are more compassionate and caring. “I can’t ever say the right thing” can become, “I’m doing the best I can, and I’ll get better with practice.”
  6. Take care of yourself. Take time for some healthy self-care, whether that’s getting a massage, taking a nap, or savoring a cup of coffee with a friend. If you know you are prone to resentment, make a list of self-care activities that you would enjoy during the holidays. Be grateful when you’ve discovered self-care that helps you cope with and enjoy life.
  7. Experiment with a gratitude practice for one week. I recommend the well-researched practice called “Three Good Things.” Every night for a week, participants in one study wrote or thought about three things that went well that day, along with their interpretation of those events. Amazingly, this activity boosted happiness and reduced depression for 6 months! I do this activity periodically and find that it helps me cultivate the “gratitude attitude.” It’s incredible how skilled you can become at noticing “good things” with just a little practice.
  8. Transform resentment with a “Gratitude Review:" When you are coping with rejection, exclusion, or other hurtful actions, try a Gratitude Review. Start by writing down this sentence: “I’m grateful for this incident because it taught me that I don’t like being treated in the following ways.” Then list. A related prompt: “I’m grateful for this incident because it taught me I expect the following behaviors from true friends.” Then list what you realized. (Adapted from a fantastic blog by Suzanne Degges-White here.)
  9. Focus on the big picture. Does your spouse show love and caring most of the time? Is your friend usually thoughtful? Then maybe you can forgive them for their holiday lapses. It’s a busy time. It may be a cliche, but it's helpful to focus on what you do have rather than what you don't.
  10. Just say “thank you.” Make a decision ahead of time to appreciate whatever gift is given to you. Thank the person. Be grateful that he remembered you, even if you don't care for the gift itself. (Take it back later or re-gift.) Write your thank-you notes, like your mama said. You’ll feel a gratitude buzz!
  11. Contact the people you are grateful for. Do you wish someone would call or write? I've often wished for more contact with loved ones during the holidays. One day it occurred to me (doh!) that the phone worked both ways! Write cards, send email, or call people you are grateful for in your life. Find a way, subtle or direct, to let them know you appreciate them.

What do you do to heal the slings and arrows of holiday misfortune? Please share your strategies in "Comments." Readers, I am grateful for you. Thank you for being a friend of the Changepower blog!

© Meg Selig, 2014

It's the 5th anniversary of my book, Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009)! Take a look here or here. For tidbits and updates on habit change, willpower, mental habits, and health, follow me on Facebook or Twitter.


“Resentment.” American Heritage Dictionary.

“Self-compassion.” Neff, Kristin, Self-Compassion (William Morrow, 2011).

“Three good things.” Seligman, et al, “Positive Psychology Progress,” American Psychologist, 60, #5 (2005), 416 ff.

"Gratitude review." Suzanne Degges-White, here.