Gratitude Can Be Key to Feeling Better

owner caressing gently her dog

Ever had a day when everything seems to go wrong? Maybe your alarm doesn’t go off, you’re late for work, and then when you get there, your computer and printer just won’t cooperate? You may even feel like things just keep going wrong all day. What can you do when this happens? As odd as it sounds, using gratitude can be a great way to end the stress cycle.

Gratitude is the practice of noticing good things in our world. It means taking the time to see the small, pleasant things that happen to us every day. Oftentimes, when we have tough days, like those described above, our thoughts and our experiences become so clouded by negativity and stress, that we fail to see all the other neutral, or even positive, experiences that we have. As a result, our world-view is limited and negatively skewed.

Research has found that people who count their blessings have improved mood, exercise more, sleep better, and have better social relationships. Imagine all of that in something that is IN OUR CONTROL and takes less than a minute a day!

Another study, by the Greater Good Institute of Berkley (2018) found benefits in a sample of individuals who were seeking mental health counseling at a university, typically related to issues of depression and anxiety. Compared to participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, participants who wrote gratitude letters to people in their lives reported significantly better mental health both 4 and 12 weeks later.

There are limitless ways to be grateful. Below are some examples:

Pay attention to authentic positive events

For example, Dr. Rick Hansen states, “If you’re feeling anxious, look for realistic opportunities to feel supported, protected, resourced, tough-minded, relaxed, or calm. If life feels disappointing or blah, look for the genuine facts that naturally support experiences of gladness, gratitude, pleasure, accomplishment, or effectiveness.” Dr. Hansen highlights that the only way to be more grateful for things is to practice noticing these moments; by doing so, we train our brain to see more positive things.

When we take the time to notice some of the good things, our world becomes richer. We can then see the smiles of strangers, the green lights on the drive to work, or the gift of a comfortable sweater. We can be grateful for a warm house, a safe neighborhood, and friends who support us when life is hard. We can even reflect on how we can be a blessing to someone else by sharing acts of kindness and compassion.

Write them down

When my children were young, I asked them to tell me three things they were thankful for that day. We recorded them down using an app on my phone. Oftentimes, they were grateful for small things like “jello for lunch at school,” or “legos.” They were not grandiose or expensive gestures or gifts.

Now, I still maintain this habit, but for myself. I have found that I am also grateful for many small things. Sometimes these include nice weather, the birds singing outside my window, or a smile from a colleague. Although I am grateful for the big things too, like my son graduating high school, completing a project that I worked hard on, or receiving a visit from an old friend, I find it is the smaller things that keep me happy on a day to day basis. If you are using a journal, it can be helpful to review, particularly on tough days.

Keep a gratitude box somewhere central in your home

If you live with other people, such as roommates or family members, a gratitude box can be meaningful. Each person can write something down and slip it in the box. Once a day (or week), everyone can take turns pulling out a slip and reading it. At mealtimes (or other times when you are together), have everyone share something they appreciated or enjoyed during their day.

It’s all about a little thought and creativity. But the efforts will likely pay off in meaningful ways. And with a mind full of good, you’ll have more to offer others. By doing so, you will also cultivate the good in others, making the world a better place. One moment at a time.

Y. Joel Wong, Jesse Owen, Nicole T. Gabana, Joshua W. Brown, Sydney McInnis, Paul Toth & Lynn Gilman (2018). Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial, Psychotherapy Research, 28:2, 192-202.

Robert A. Emmons Michael E. McCullough (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 84, No. 2.


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