When people think of having gratitude, they think about being thankful for what they have in their life. This might be a fleeting moment, only occurring during positive events. Practicing gratitude focuses on the acknowledgement and appreciation of your blessings. Practicing gratitude involves a more in-depth action involving mindfulness and application in all situations, good or bad.
Why Practice Gratitude?
In a previous article, we talked about the benefits of gratitude:
- Increased happiness
- Boost in self-esteem and confidence
- Improved immunity
In fact, positive psychologists have shown that gratitude can have immediate effects. Researchers found that participants who practiced gratitude exhibited more optimism about upcoming events and life in general. Study participants also had an immediate 10% increase in happiness and a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms. These effects can last three to six months or longer with repeated practice.
Practicing gratitude can be a family affair as well. Researchers from Hofstra University found that children who practiced gratitude and had higher levels of gratitude:
- Had better grades
- Set higher goals for themselves
- Were more satisfied with school, family and friends
- Experienced fewer headaches and stomachaches
- Were less likely to be jealous of peers
How to Practice Gratitude
The best part of practicing gratitude? It’s free. You and your loved ones can experience benefits almost instantly, although try not to come up with their gratitude-worthy blessings for them. Here are some ways to get started.
When waking up, before getting out of bed or looking at your phone, list three things you’re grateful for. Mentally note them or write them down. They can be small at first (e.g., grateful for friends, plentiful food, safety, etc.), especially if having a hard time thinking of things.
Example: Today, I am grateful to have food in my fridge, AC on this hot day, and a job that allows me to afford these blessings.
Taking Good From the Bad
It can be difficult to remain positive during tough situations. But building resiliency and finding the positive can be developed over time. Finding the positive aspects in a difficult experience can reframe the negative event. Although bittersweet, looking for the good can alleviate stress and tension surrounding the event.
- “This experience really brought me closer to friends/family.”
- “This experience showed me how resilient I can be in tough situations.”
- “I have learned so much about what not to do next time, and I will not make the same mistakes.”
- “I’m able to be more empathetic and compassionate towards others in my life.”
- “Not getting the experience/thing I originally wanted opened up doors to better opportunities/things.”
Example: A man reflects on a previous hospitalization for depression and worries about the possibility of being hospitalized again. He views himself as weak for having to be hospitalized in the first place. When asked to reflect on the positives that came out of that event, he says, “Well, I switched careers, which allowed me more time to take care of myself, a healthier lifestyle, and the opportunity to help people. I was so unhealthy and unhappy with my previous career; my co-workers and peers were too competitive and unsupportive. I grew much closer to my family because of this … Oh, so this wasn’t weakness, this was growth.”
“At Least” Expressions
Using or being the recipient of these expressions can feel minimizing. There is nothing more disheartening than confiding in someone about a tough situation and her saying, “Well it could have been worse.” When we come up with our own “at least” expressions, they come from an organic source and can feel validating. Recognizing positives in the current situation can illustrate what could have happened.
When you are in a bad situation, try to list “at least” three things that could be worse, that mitigate the situation. You could substitute “at least” with “Thank God” if that feels more natural.
- “This event was terrible … but at least I did not …”
- “Things did not turn out the way I wanted, but thank God I …”
- “I feel awful; at least I am fortunate enough to …”
Example: A woman got into a car accident, totaling her car, which was her only means of transportation to work. She said she practiced “Thank God” statements: “Thank God, I wasn’t injured,” “Thank God, I was able to secure another car quickly with the help of my parents,” “Thank God, no one else was hurt.” The woman’s perspective helped reframe the accident in a less negative light.
‘I get to’ Statements
When we have so many responsibilities, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and burdened by our to-do list. Sometimes changing self-talk from “I have to” to “I get to” can produce gratitude for the opportunities in our lives. We often realize deeper inferences in the “I get to” statements.
- Change “I have to go to work” to “I get to go to work.”
- Possible inferences: I am employed, I am earning a living.
- Change “I have to do housework this weekend” to “I get to do housework this weekend.”
- Possible inferences: I have a home that I get to live in, I have enough free time this weekend to do the work.
Example: A student was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work she had to do for her classes: “I have all these assignments,” “I have to go to tutoring,” “I have to go to the club meeting.” She was asked to rephrase her tasks to “I get to” statements, and asked how these can be fortunate opportunities. The student said, “Well, I get to have an education at a good school, I have the opportunity to receive help to pass a class, and I get to socialize with friends who enjoy the things I do.”
Think about where gratitude could fit into your life and which practices would be most helpful. As with any skill, it takes practice and may feel unnatural at first. Notice how you feel, though, right after the practice; you’ll be using these methods automatically soon enough.
Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46(2), 213-233. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2007.03.005
Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.60.5.410
Sood, A. (2013). The Mayo Clinic guide to stress-free living. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, a division of Perseus Books Group