We all experience times in our lives when feeling grateful is difficult. While we know, in our minds, that even in the darkest periods not all is bleak and there are always a few positive glimmers of hope, rummaging through all the gloom to find them feels like an immense effort. The events of the passing year - the pandemic, economic losses, and general turmoil - definitely didn’t make it easier for most of us.
While the concept of expressing gratitude may be a struggle for some, mental health experts point out that sticking with it is worthwhile. Appreciating positive aspects of your life has the ability to boost your mental well-being, increase your sense of happiness, and reduce symptoms of depression. “Gratitude can improve the quality of our sleep. And when we are grateful, we are able to appreciate and celebrate the accomplishments of others so that we operate from a position of complementing rather than competing or comparing, which can enhance our self-esteem,” explained psychotherapist Farah Harris. To learn more, take a look at our previous article The Benefits of Being Grateful.
If you’re not sure where to start, we have compiled a few simple and realistic ways, recommended by experts, to practice gratitude, even when the world seems to be against you.
Gratitude practice will look different for everyone, so taking the time to find out what works for you is essential. Expressing thanks should start first and foremost with yourself before you outwardly communicate it to others.
If you feel more comfortable with mentally noting what you’re grateful for rather than writing it in a journal, then do that. If typing out a list on your phone feels right and rewarding, then go for it. A practice only works when it doesn’t feel forced or stressful, and when you stick to it. You can shape, mold, and adapt your practice in whichever way you want.
Experts advise carving out time in your day, during which you focus on the positives. It doesn’t have to be a long time, it can even be just a few minutes. Think of it as the period in your day when nothing can go wrong.
You can center your morning routine around practicing your gratitude, or your evening routine before you go to bed. Turning your phone off at this time, or setting it on airplane mode, can be helpful. “Let people know you will not be available at that time, go somewhere quiet, enforce boundaries with your family members and ensure you get what you need,” suggests business and mindset mentor Sharn Khaira.
The reason that documenting your gratitude, in the form of a journal, a list, or even a jar is recommended is because it provides a visual representation of your positives. The human brain has a natural inclination to reflect on negative incidents, which gives them a greater impact on us. By physically quantifying your gratitude in a form you can see helps with that ‘negativity bias’.
When all the positive things are laid out in front of your eyes, you can interrupt your brain when it goes down a negative spiral. You will also be able to revisit the notes on a particularly rough day.
Of course, the big things in life like your health, your family and your job are all positive and important. But recognizing the small moments that make us happy can be very helpful when the general state of things feels overwhelmingly negative.
If you identify something you’re grateful for, don't overthink it. A good hair day, a warm and relaxing shower, or a yummy meal - all of these seemingly small things have weight. Nothing is too small, or too silly.
Finally, being kind and expressing your gratitude to others, will promote healthy relationships, which can really keep you afloat during difficult times. Don’t hesitate to send a message or even send a thank you note, in response to a kind gesture, or just to let your friends and family know they are seen and loved.
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