thank you

An Attitude of Gratitude

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A regular practice of gratitude has been shown to inspire health benefits including increased exercise, optimism, and reduced physical pain.  Gratitude has a multitude of mental health benefits as well, such as better sleep, reduced depression, and reduced stress.  Studies by the National Institute of Health indicate that gratitude can increase dopamine in your brain, which serves as a “reward” hormone to make you feel good.

Gratitude also has spiritual benefits.  When we thank God for the gifts He has given us, we are then better able to receive those gifts with gratitude rather than continuing to demand more.  Psalm 23:1 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need.”  Meditating on this verse helps me to be aware of all the needs I have that are being met, rather than comparing my current status with what I wish I had.

Oftentimes, if we struggle with depression or anxiety, gratitude isn’t our first response.  Instead, we face hopelessness about our life circumstances.  We can have a thought pattern of only seeing the negative in our lives, without taking the time or energy to appreciate the good things we experience.  I personally can tend to default to a more “glass half empty” frame of mind.

But what if, instead of only looking at the bad, we chose to see all the good in our lives?  Have you heard of the difference between the “scarcity mentality” and the “abundance mentality”? The scarcity mentality says, “I’ll never have enough/what I want,” while the abundance mentality comes from the perspective of “I have all that I need.”  How might it feel if you chose gratitude for the abundance in your life rather than focusing on things you lack? 

Here are some ways you can practice gratitude in your daily life. 

Keep a gratitude journal.

Each night before bed, or each morning when you wake up, take some time to write out a list of things you are grateful for in a journal designated for just that purpose.  You could take Ann Voskamp’s approach and write a list of three different things you’re grateful for on a daily basis, culminating in over 1000 different things to be grateful for in one year.  In the past, I’ve combined this practice with the practice of an examen to reflect on my day and the good and bad that happened throughout.  Looking back over this journal, it is easy to see how full our lives are of good things, and to experience joy at the gifts we have. 

Practice gratitude in your relationships.

We often become so accustomed to loved ones in our lives that we begin to lose sight of the ways they love or serve us.  This is a particular problem in marriages, where the praise and appreciation that are so prevalent at first tend to taper as you spend more and more time together.  Sit down with your partner or with a close friend today and share with them ways that you are grateful for who they are and what influence they’ve had on your life.

Sit in nature and write lists of all the things you see around you for which you are thankful.

Have you ever watched the TV show Planet Earth?  Whenever I flip on an episode of this or any other nature show, I'm fascinated by the creatures and landscapes that exist in this world and their beauty.  When we take the time to sit outside and look at the world around us (even in the winter!), we can connect with a world that is much bigger than we are.  We can also experience more peace and calm as a result.

Pray.

At times in the past, my gratitude journal has taken the form of a prayer journal, where I spend time thanking God for the blessings in my life.  Whether this takes the form of a nightly ritual or an extended conversation with God, it can be a refreshing and renewing practice for my faith and to remind myself that God has provided all that I need.  Sometimes combining prayer with a walk can be helpful, as it allows space to be in nature as well.  Another area we can practice gratitude in prayer is paying attention to answered prayers: what have you been praying for where God has provided an answer? 

Write a thank-you note!

We’re taught as children to write thank you notes for the gifts we get at parties, and we often continue that practice with other special events in our lives, like weddings and baby showers.  While this custom tied to formal events can feel rote and like a chore, what would it feel like for you to write a thank you note to a friend…just because?  Try sending a thank-you card to a friend or family member for no reason other than to practice gratitude for the ways they’ve been present in your life.

Stop comparing yourself to others!

This is a big one, and I can often be the #1 culprit.  When we compare ourselves to others, even if we do so in order to view ourselves more favorably, that is not gratitude.  In fact, when we do it, it often leaves us with kind of an icky feeling.  Gratitude is about finding the things that are positive in your own life, without comparing to anyone else.

What step will you take this week to practice gratitude in your life?

This article was originally posted on March 25, 2017.

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Are you having a hard time finding anything to feel grateful about?  Maybe you relate to the idea of the scarcity mentality, where you feel hopeless and unhappy with your current life circumstances.  Here at Restored Hope, I’d love to help you on your journey to change your circumstances and your outlook to live a happy and fulfilled life.  Contact me at my Ann Arbor therapy office to hear more about how you can find support and help to live more wholeheartedly.  Call me at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to reach me.

The Unexpected Power of a Thank You

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When was the last time you said thank you?  Was it to the cashier at the grocery store out of politeness?  Was it to your spouse for helping you carry in the groceries?  Was it to a friend who was there for you when you had a hard day?

What about the last time you received a “thank you” from someone else?  Or when did you receive praise?  For most of us, this is the more difficult question: whether due to disqualifying the positive events of our lives or genuinely not receiving praise, it can be difficult to identify positive words that have been spoken about you.

How about this: when was the last time you asked for praise or affirmation?  When did you express what you needed to someone close to you?  If you can think of an example, what did that feel like for you?  If not, what holds you back from asking?  Would you feel needy?  Like the praise was forced?

Listen to this short, three-minute TED talk from Dr. Laura Trice about the importance of genuine, authentic praise. 

How can you up your praise quotient in your own life?

Offer specific and genuine praise to those around you.

Saying a simple “thank you” is better than offering no praise at all.  But to take it a step further, think of one or two specific affirmations that you can offer another person or specific actions for which that you are thankful.  This type of praise helps others to know that you see them and their efforts, which, in turn, feels more genuine and authentic.

Offer praise rather than assuming the other person knows you’re grateful.

Dr. Trice shares a powerful example from her work with addicts.  She indicates that the core wound of many addicts comes from their parents neglecting to tell their child how proud they were of him or her.  Often parents talk about this pride with others, but did not directly express that pride to their child.

We can’t assume that our loved ones know how we feel about them if we don’t express it in words.  Take time to thank your spouse for something that you usually take for granted, or offer an “I love you” just because.  As Dr. Trice suggests, thank your children for completing their chores, even if it’s what’s expected of them.

Ask yourself: what praise do I need to hear?

If you’re feeling down or having a hard time feeling appreciated, think through what you need to hear that would help you feel more secure.  Do you want to be recognized for the contributions you offer to your workplace?  What about the parenting “wins” you’ve had lately?  Or how you put effort into finding the perfect gift for your spouse? Make a list of these areas, and then identify: where can you offer that praise to yourself?  Where would it be helpful to hear that praise from others?

Acknowledge the vulnerability it takes to ask for what you need.

When she gets down to the “why” of the difficulty related to asking for praise or thanks, Dr. Trice reveals that it is a vulnerable ask.  By requesting specific affirmations, we are indicating our weakness or a need.  It is difficult to admit this need, as we fear it could be used against us or withheld from us in the future.  Asking to be praised involves risk and trust.

You could neglect me, you could abuse it, or you could actually meet my need.
— Dr. Laura Trice

For some of us, having our needs met might be the most vulnerable experience we could have.  Perhaps we aren’t used to others meeting our needs, or we’re used to having to fight for ourselves.  It can be both healing and redemptive to ask for what you need and to receive it. 

Practice asking for the praise and affirmation you need to hear.

After you’ve listed out your needs, seek out the people you trust to ask for them to offer praise or appreciation for you.  Choose someone who is safe first and who you trust to be able to offer genuine praise.  Get creative with your ask and offer praise for them as well.  Create this as a regular practice in your life. 

I’m giving you critical data about me, I’m telling you where I’m insecure, I’m telling you where I need your help.
— Dr. Laura Trice
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Do you struggle to feel appreciated?  Are you feeling taken advantage of, used, or disappointed by the lack of praise in your relationships?  Are you struggling with negative thoughts about yourself?  At Restored Hope, I offer individual and couples counseling at my Ann Arbor office in Michigan to help you understand your needs more fully and learn how to communicate with others about the praise you need.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can help you.