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When I was in college, a professor of mine used to preach to us about the power of gratitude and encouraged us to express thankfulness in our everyday lives. I found it SO cheesy at the time. Anytime he would ask us to complete a gratitude exercise, it made me cringe. It felt forced because I didn’t feel like I had very much to be thankful for.
When I was in college, I struggled with depression and anxiety. It felt impossible for me to find things to be grateful for unless they were very big things like acing an exam, or seeing my boyfriend-now-husband. I was at a point in my life where I (admittedly) felt entitled. That’s sort of painful to say out loud. What’s worse, however, is that I had no idea at the time that I felt that entitled at all! (Self awareness is a beautiful thing, people!)
Seven years post-graduation, I see that I had an enormous amount of things to be thankful for. I was going to a prestigious private university, which my parents helped pay for, I traveled abroad, and I worked with professors who mentored me and challenged me. I say none of this to brag but to show how these major privileges I had in my early 20s went unnoticed. It also makes me sad to think about how grateful I could have been for all that I was given if only I paid attention.
Why Gratitude Matters
It is easy to fall into the trap of being negative and therefore only seeing the bad. When you develop the pattern of seeing the negatives, it infects your life. This was true for me, and I want so badly for it to not be true anymore. That’s where gratitude comes in.
Studies show that there are numerous benefits to gratitude. Gratitude can improve mental health by reducing anxiety and depression. It improves relationships by building empathy and becoming more mindful. It can improve physical health by reducing aches and pains. People who practice gratitude are more likely to see their doctors regularly. It enhances self-esteem, and reduces anger and aggression.
Gratitude encourages you to focus on the good in your life rather than the bad. It is my belief that every negative moment can be transformed into a moment of gratitude, if you allow it. In other words, a bad life can become a good life if you change your thoughts.
Do you ever wonder about people who have it so much worse than you and yet still seem to have a positive attitude? That’s because oftentimes, they recognize the power of gratitude in their lives and are thankful for what they have rather than indignant over what they don’t have.
Gratitude does not have to come in the form of a huge blessing. In fact, expressing gratitude seems to work best when you look for thankfulness in the small stuff. The little moments are where life happens. Noticing the good in them leads to a happier life.
For me, I express gratitude through journaling. I do two things when I journal. First, I “reframe” my negative thoughts into grateful ones. For example, if I were to write “I had a long hard day at work today and didn’t even get a chance to eat lunch,” I would reframe it by saying “I’m thankful that I have a job that keeps me so busy. I have job security.”
The second thing I do is I write three things I am grateful for at the end of each journal entry. Sometimes they are big things. Most of the time, they are something small like “David had a glass of wine poured for me when I got home,” or “both of my kitties laid in bed with me this morning.”
Guided or Prompted Journaling
If you’re the type of person who likes or needs more structure, this journal from Amazon has pages upon pages of prompts, coloring pages, and space to journal to help you express gratitude. The journal touches on the simple pleasures in life, like your favorite animal, to the more complex blessings that you take for granted. If you’re the type of person who was like me and had a hard time recognizing the things you are grateful for in your life, a journal like this one will be up your alley.
If you are a person that prays, you may express gratitude regularly. But if it’s not, count your blessings! And then thank God for them. Lots of times when people pray, they are asking for something rather than expressing gratitude for what they already have. The more you focus on what you’ve already been given, the less you’ll ask for.
There are many great guided meditations to listen to to help put you into a grateful frame of mind. My favorite app for meditation is Insight Timer. It is free and has a huge library of resources including some great meditations to help you focus on gratitude. Mantras or affirmations are also a good way to express gratitude. Examples of mantras are “I’m grateful for all the good in my life,” “I am blessed,” or even simply “thank you.”
Talk About It
If you’re feeling grateful for someone or something, say so! We often say “I’m sorry” when we actually mean “thank you.” For example, if you got stuck in traffic on your way to a meeting, instead of saying “sorry I’m late,” you could say “thank you for being patient with me.” Expressing your thanks out loud reinforces your grateful attitude. Not only that, but it also has a positive effect on other people. So spread the joy!
How have you incorporated an attitude of gratitude in your life? Let me know in the comments!