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.
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.
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.