• Colleen Lennon, LCSW

Practice Gratitude, and Practice it Often

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 be difficult, and is not the way most people are programmed to think or respond. Gratitude can be difficult for us to feel it within ourselves, and we often forget to express it to others. 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 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 happiness and contentment, improve relationships, decrease stress, and improve sleep. With all of those positive benefits, why wouldn’t every one want to develop 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 field, pick up a bat, and instantly be the next Babe Ruth, so why should becoming a pro at expressing gratitude be any different?

There are several techniques and ways to develop and increase the skill of gratitude. As with anything, what works for one person may or may not work for another, so it is important to test them out and find what works for you. It may seem unnatural or inauthentic at first, but with continued practice and experience, it will start to become a habit (and I am betting that the positive feelings or benefits you will start to see will reinforce the desire to keep practicing gratitude).

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Write a letter of gratitude. Pick a person in your life that you are grateful for and write them a letter explaining why. Make it an old-fashioned letter, and if you can, deliver it in person.

  4. 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 genuine and honest in your compliment, don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

  5. When something goes wrong, 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?

  6. Say thank 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, and 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 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.

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