“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” Willie Nelson
When our mental health is challenged by our circumstances and hardships, it can be hard to be thankful and grateful for what we have, but gratitude is actually the antidote to combat depression, sadness, and feeling moody and down. Gratitude takes the focus off of what could be and shows thankfulness for what is.
Gratitude is a state of being thankful or appreciative. The journal Psychiatry in an article entitled “Gratitude and Well Being” defines gratitude as “the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.” In other words, we need to cultivate the attitude of gratitude and work on being thankful. Appreciation for what you do have is a way of life, of being, and reflects your attitude toward yourself and others.
Gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions. You can not be both. They can not live together. The practice of gratitude actually deters negative feelings such as anger, defensiveness, and jealousy. It’s hard to feel resentful or bitter when you’re feeling grateful for the things in life you do have. Also, being grateful leads to possibly being a much more pleasant person, which will lead to more people liking you and to improved relationships.
Having gratitude does not stop at just combatting your negative emotions. It can improve five areas of your life, such as your emotional well-being, you career, your personality, your health, and your social life. Gratitude can positively impact all these areas in your life and lead you to happiness.
It sounds too good to be true that just being grateful for what you have can make you contented, but research shows that individuals who adopt an attitude of gratitude are happier than those who do not.
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading researcher on gratitude who has conducted multiple studies on its effects on people, found a link between gratitude and increased happiness and physical health and also a reduction in depression.
Forbes magazine quotes a study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology that discovered gratitude increased athlete’s self esteem. It stands to reason that gratitude would increase your self-esteem as well. In addition, since gratitude enhances people’s happiness for what they have and do, it also reduces social comparisons. Instead of resenting others for having what you may perceive as having more than you, grateful people can appreciate their own accomplishments and successes as well as those of others.
Lastly, gratitude has shown to increase mental strength. Most surprising, gratitude has been proven to play a large role in overcoming trauma. Forbes magazine also quoted a 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy that discovered Vietnam War Veterans who had higher levels of gratitude also showed lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These studies reflect the idea that no matter your circumstances and obstacles, feeling and showing gratitude, as hard as it may be at first, can play a significant role in healing ourselves and strengthening our resolve to keep fighting our battles.
15 Ways to Show Gratitude
- Above anything else you could do to show thankfulness, keep a gratitude journal. – Mental Health Writer and Activist Therese Borchard paraphrases Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California in Riverside, in saying that keeping a gratitude journal can increase energy and relieve pain and fatigue, all of which lead to an increase in happiness. From the chart below, the longer you maintain your gratitude journal, the more your happiness will increase.
Gratitude journals do not mean you have to write for an extensive amount of time. It only takes one minutes to jot down what you are grateful for. For example, take a look below at my favorite gratitude journal found on Amazon. One minute is all it takes to improve your happiness.
- Volunteer. This doesn’t mean you have to commit yourself to an organized volunteer group. Volunteering could be as simple as helping someone across the street or petting animals at your local animal shelter.
- Offer to give someone a hug. Not all physical touch is bad, and hugs are a great way to show someone else that you care about him/her. Hugs also take you out of your head and puts the focus on the person to whom you are embracing.
- Perform Random Acts of Kindness –
- Look for ways to compliment others
- Send a thank you note to your or your child’s teacher
- Allow traffic to enter in front of you
- Call or visit an elderly person just to chat
- Hold a door open for someone
- Say ‘Thank you’ when someone shows you a random act of kindness.
- Pay it forward. When you order a coffee, pay for the person behind you. And it never hurts to drop a few coins in the tip jar to show your appreciation for those serving you.
- Be a support system to other people. Be there for other people when they are having a rough time. It just might take your mind off your own circumstances.
- Help a stranger in need. Recently I saw a homeless man sitting on the curb outside of the grocery store, so on my way out I gave him some of my groceries so he could eat. He was so appreciative and grateful that it made me feel satisfied and happy that I could help someone else.
- Tell someone how much they mean to you.
- Smile, smile, smile at everyone you see. Smiling is contagious. And if you don’t feel like smiling, fake it till you make it.
- Retweet someone’s tweet, like mine. 😉
- Write a handwritten note to a friend just because they deserve it.
- Don’t complain for 24 hours. You might find this difficult because it’s so much easier to be negative than positive. However, by changing your language from negative to positive, you will start to see your blessings more than your criticisms.
- Invite your neighbor over for tea or coffee
- Think of a person who has helped you in life. This could be a teacher, a friend, a therapist, ect. Reflect on how they have helped and how you’ve benefited. Write them a letter recalling the impact they have had on your life. If you aren’t able to mail it, the experience of shifting your focus away from negative feelings and on to good memories is still beneficial.
- Tell your therapist/psychiatrist “Thank you.”
Don’t Forget to Show Gratitude For Yourself
- Practice self-care.
- Take yourself to a movie.
- Commit to giving yourself genuine compliments on something you did well
- Allow yourself credit for trying something new, even if it did not go as planned.
- Write yourself a love letter. Start with “Dear, Becca” (insert your own name) and write what you admire about yourself. If this is too difficult, write the positive comments that others say about you.
Things for Which I am Grateful (the shortened list)
- My quirky and love-of-my-life dog Maybelline
- A cozy apartment in which I can relax.
- The thrift store during 50% off days.
- Free books through Amazon Kindle.
- Our therapist Randy who patiently and deftly puts up with us.
- My degrees in Accounting and Secondary English Education.
- The unusual ability to not have killed my plants lately.
- The efforts and affirmations I’m making not to compare myself to others
- Beautiful and happy sunflowers
- Hearing my wind chimes ring
Showing gratitude may be challenging in your current circumstances when things seem bleakest, but being thankful for what you do have may be the most important thing you do in recovery. However, gratitude is not a cure-all. There will still be bad days and tough times, but looking at those obstacles and rough patches with grateful eyes will help lessen the pain and can teach you lessons of thankfulness that will ultimately lead to long-lasting happiness.