Health & Wellness

How the Power of Practicing Gratitude Can Change Your Life (+ 5 Simple Tips to Get Started Today)

Do you ever feel unmotivated, overwhelmed, and exhausted by it all? If so, know that you aren’t alone. My patients often confide in me that they feel the very same way and wonder if they are clinically depressed or simply run-down. The reality is that many people frequently feel overwhelmed by the stress of daily life. After all, you’re caught up in rushing from one obligation to the next and checking things off your neverending to-do list. When that happens, it’s easy to forget to feel grateful for your friends and family and all the positive aspects of your life. Instead, negative thoughts take over and run you into the ground. Sound familiar?

Believe me, I’m guilty of this myself. Often, I hear, “I should be happy because I have a roof over my head, a job, a spouse….” But it’s important to take a step back and acknowledge gratitude for the little things in your life—the things that are not material but fill your soul. This is where practicing gratitude can help. By taking just a few small minutes every day for daily gratitude practice, you can drastically improve your sense of wellbeing.

I’m grateful to have an opportunity to educate others on health, and that’s what motivates me to go to work every day. I’m also grateful for my husband’s support, as my hours can be very long, and he is always there when I get home. As you can see, it isn’t only about recognizing the material things you have, but rather expressing gratitude for the things that may be forgotten and lost in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

In fact, there’s a field of psychology known as positive psychology that focuses on “positive emotions and personal strength.” Researchers in this field have discovered that finding meaning in life is important to achieving greater life satisfaction. [1] Taking the time to be aware of what’s good in your life gives you feel a greater sense of connection and meaning. And this is one of the biggest benefits of gratitude.

So, how can you find more ways to practice gratitude in your life? I’ve got five tips to help you get started.

 

5 Tips for Practicing Gratitude

Once a negative thought process has started in your brain, it can seem almost impossible to break it. Even finding “positive” things to consider can be difficult in that moment. It takes practice, and trust me, you can do this—and it doesn’t cost a thing! It will be so worth a few minutes in your day.

In fact, a study published in Greater Good Magazine found that practicing gratitude can cause remarkable improvements in wellbeing. The research revealed that a daily gratitude practice helped participants focus more on positive emotions rather than dwelling on disappointing events and negative feelings. Researchers also found that participants showed an increase in sensitivity and attentiveness in showing gratitude. Results showed that it takes time for a daily gratitude practice to create changes in mental health, so be patient with yourself as you embark on practicing gratitude daily.  [2]

So, what does it mean exactly to practice gratitude and how is it helpful? Does it mean simply wearing rose-colored glasses? As Robert Emmons, the world’s expert on the “science of gratitude” explains, practicing gratitude isn’t just naïve positive thinking. And practicing gratitude is something you can do during both the hard times and the good. [3]

Here are five simple gratitude practices to help you start building a daily gratitude practice. Remember that it may take time to notice your spirits lifting but stick with it.

 

1. Reframe your thinking.

Your mind and body are connected—and they communicate. In many ways, your thoughts create your feelings. Psychologists have found that there are certain forms of negative thinking many of us can fall into. Recognizing these and learning to reframe your thinking can help you put positive thinking into action and build confidence and resilience.

Reframing is something I practice on a daily basis and it helps me stay positive and focused through times of instability. I try to remember that we create our own patterns, and the negativity is created in our own minds, not by others.

We all share energy and it is passed from one person to another. If you pick up on someone else’s negative energy, you need to release it. Focus on those around you that lift you up, rather than bring you down. Blaming others for your situation does not do anything but perpetuate the negativity. This may sound easy, but I know that it is not. It takes practice and you have to learn to recognize when this negativity creeps into your head—and reverse it!

Here are four types of negative thinking or self-talk you may find yourself engaging in: [4]

  • Catastrophizing

With this type of negative thinking, you expect the worst. You worry that the worst will happen. I am incredibly guilty of this one. My husband will tell you that I worry about everything, especially when it comes to my kids.

It can be hard not to do this when you’re feeling stressed. But what are the odds that something bad will indeed happen? And is it as bad as you are imagining? And is there a solution to that scenario? The last thing to consider is if worrying is impacting your joy at the moment—and if so, it is a waste of energy!

For example, I always worried about my kids playing football— so much so that it impacted me enjoying watching them play! Once I recognized that there was no point in worrying unless an injury actually happens, I have been on the sidelines cheering them on! I find myself grateful for smelling the air outside while I watch their games and cheering them on with friends.

So, remember to take a deep breath and be present in the moment. Notice what is good and joyful and beautiful. You have absolutely no control over what may or may not happen. The fear of loss of control will spin you out of control. Let that need for control go.

  • Filtering

Rather than focus on what you have accomplished or on the positive aspects of a situation, you turn your attention to the one thing that went wrong or that you didn’t get done. I feel that most women are guilty of this every single time we look in the mirror. We focus on every perceived flaw and forget to recognize our unique beauty!

Or, maybe you received many compliments about a job or accomplishment, but one person said something negative and that’s all you can think about. You are filtering out the negative aspects rather than focusing on the positive.

Social media can perpetuate this particular mechanism Comments can be thrown around out of context. Believing everything you read and focusing on the bad, rather than your accomplishments, can bring you down.

A good reframe is to instead turn your attention to all the compliments and to remind yourself that the one negative compliment was probably more about that person than about you.

Remember, that we all pass energy around, and someone’s negative energy will appear as an insult. Let them keep that energy and you focus on the people and activities that fill your soul. They are simply trying to get rid of it by giving it to you—don’t accept it.

  • Personalizing

We make it about ourselves. Just because someone has to change plans doesn’t mean they don’t want to spend time with you. Or, if someone doesn’t say hello one morning or doesn’t smile, it may have nothing to do with you. They may just be having a hard time, or they may be distracted.

The thing is, sometimes we make a situation about us, we personalize it, when in fact it has nothing to do with us. Stop and reframe in moments like this. Remember everyone is dealing with their own stuff. It might even be a moment to reach out and ask how they’re doing. Perhaps they could use some positive energy today.

  • Polarizing

This is also known as “black or white” thinking, meaning that things are only one way or another; there is no gray area. Either you’re perfect or you’re a failure. You can probably see how much pressure this kind of self-talk can put on you and how it is a recipe for anxiety and depression.

When you catch yourself going down the rabbit hole of polarizing thinking, stop and ask yourself, “what’s in the middle”?

I don’t mean you should sugarcoat situations, but rather take a more balanced viewpoint. For example, your presentation wasn’t 100 percent perfect (and how many ever are?). You feel like a failure. But wait a second—what was good about the presentation? What did you learn from it? Or, maybe your job isn’t going well. But what is going well and where can you make changes?

So, when you’re dealing with negative self-talk, remember the first step is self-awareness— noticing that you’re having these thoughts. The second step is finding ways to turn around your thinking, to reframe your thoughts in a more positive, balanced light. It may require you to switch up your environment to focus on things that keep you more positive.

2. Practice gratitude writing.

Taking time to write down the people and circumstances in your life you are thankful for is a terrific way of practicing gratitude. Doing this helps you remember all that is good in your life, all that you have to be grateful for. It helps you reframe negative thinking and emphasize positive emotions. [5]

As I mentioned above, don’t only write down the larger things (a place to live, a job, a family, etc.) but remember the little things, like the person at the grocery store who smiled and said, “Good morning.”\

I had a meeting at a coffee shop yesterday and a kind older gentleman smiled and acknowledged what a beautiful day it was. It led to some very minimal small talk, but I am grateful for meeting this new person. I found myself happy most of the day because of his positive energy.

There are a few ways you can practice gratitude writing. Try keeping a gratitude list, which is as simple as it sounds: Take a few minutes each day to write a list of what you’re grateful for. Or, you can simply say them out loud to yourself. You could even use a voice memo app to record your list each day.

You can also keep a gratitude journal where you take time to journal about what you’re grateful for each day.

Finally, you can also try writing a gratitude letter or letters to express your gratitude either to yourself or to someone else. You don’t necessarily have to deliver the letter; just the process of writing the letter can be a helpful way for you to express gratitude and boost your emotional and mental health.

Practicing gratitude every day - Dr.Pingel

3. Spend time with people you love.

Take time to connect with and spend time with friends and family who lift you up. Ideally, meet up in person, but if that’s not possible, reach out by phone. Real positive, supportive connections in real life (vs. social media) are so important to building self-worth and self-confidence, and, ultimately, good mental health.

Ultimately, spending time with loved ones is one of the best ways of practicing gratitude because it helps you remember how much love you have in your life. If you’re -you aren’t alone, as many of us feel lonely despite having family and friends in our life. This might be a good time to try and connect with people you haven’t spoken to in a while or find a new group to join to make new connections.

My best advice when choosing who to spend your time with is to ask one question, “Does this person lift me up or bring me down?” and leave the downers alone.

4. Practice mindfulness.

Self-awareness is key to staying on top of your thinking and negative self-talk.  Another way to build self-awareness, or mindfulness, is to meditate. Meditation can help you find some stillness and clarity.

If you’re feeling anxious or agitated about something, it can help you take a step back and get present. And the more you’re able to be present, the more you can breathe a sigh of relief and remember what you’re thankful for.

5. Reach out.

Similar to spending time with loved ones, finding other ways to reach out to others can be a helpful way of practicing gratitude. One way to do this is through volunteering. Find a cause or organization that you want to support and get involved.

You can also “pay it forward” to people who show positive gratitude in return. Find ways to help those less fortunate or to share what you have and allow them to fill your heart with graciousness.

Practicing gratitude by reaching out to others is a gratitude habit that helps to foreground just how much you have to be thankful for and how much you have to give. We all have positive energy to share with one another—find the people who reciprocate and offer your time to listen.

 

Key Takeaways

  • The field of positive psychology has shown that there are many benefits of gratitude.
  • Practicing gratitude is a way to improve your emotional wellbeing and boost your mental health. It can also be a great way to help someone else.
  • Follow my five tips to start practicing gratitude daily.

 

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