Gratitude, per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is defined as “a feeling of appreciation or thanks; the state of being grateful.” Reading that definition, gratitude would appear as if it were something very simple to do or easy to feel, like it should just happen naturally with no effort involved whatsoever. But as many of us probably know firsthand, feeling or showing gratitude towards ourselves or others can often times not happen and is not the way most people are programmed to think or respond. It can be difficult for us to feel it within ourselves. We often forget to express it to others and frequently do not receive it when we want or expect it. Gratitude can be even more difficult to feel or express during times of stress, frustration, anger, anxiety, sadness, or depression. But being able to appreciate what and who we have in our lives is a very helpful way for us to put things into perspective and improve our moods, which is even more important during the difficult times. If it seems overwhelming on your own, reach out to a therapist for help. Therapy can be especially helpful during the hard times to be able to learn and use techniques to be able to better express and feel gratitude.
Practicing and expressing gratitude can improve overall well-being and satisfaction with life, increase the experience of positive emotions, improve relationships, decrease stress, improve sleep, and make us happier. With all of those positive benefits, why wouldn’t every one want to develop and have a skill that can do all that? Gratitude, like any other skill, is something we need to learn, cultivate, and practice. When you are learning something new, say for example a sport, it is important to learn the basic techniques, enlist a coach if needed, and practice, practice, practice! We wouldn’t expect to be able to walk onto a baseball felid, pick up a bat, and instantly be the next Babe Ruth, so why should becoming a pro at feeling and expressing gratitude be any different?
- Keep a gratitude journal. Each day write an entry for at least one thing you were grateful for during that day. Try to be specific and come up with something different each day. By keeping it unique and new, you will start to appreciate more around you, see all there is to be grateful for, and be more aware and mindful.
- Before you go to bed each night, think of at least three things you are grateful for. They can be anything, such as something that happened during the day, a person in your life who you are grateful for, something about yourself you admire or appreciate, or maybe the basics of having shelter, clothing, and food each day. Try to really appreciate the list and not just come up with three things to complete the task.
- Write a letter of gratitude. Pick a person in your life who you are grateful for and write them a letter explaining why, and yes, an old fashion handwritten letter. If you can, deliver it in person.
- Give at least one compliment a day. It can be to a stranger you pass on the street, a colleague at work, or even to yourself. Be as genuine and honest in your compliment, don’t say it if you don’t mean it.
- When something goes bad or not the way you planned, try to find one positive in the situation. Was there something you learned from the experience? What is one good thing you can take away from the situation?
- Say thank you and express what it meant to you. When someone does something nice for you, gives you a gift or compliment, etc., express your gratitude and describe how it made you feel or how it affected you.
There are many other ways to practice gratitude, this is not a comprehensive list, but the most important thing is to start doing it in a way that works for you. Once you start getting good at one technique, try to mix it up or try something new. Continually changing it up or expressing gratitude in other ways will help you to see even more to be grateful for. Therapy can be a great way to help learn techniques, find what works for you, and be a valuable place to continually work on it. Do it and do it often!