When talking about ways to improve your mood, you may have come across the advice of thinking about what you are grateful for, and in response, you may have rolled your eyes and quickly dismissed this recommendation.
It may seem too easy or too hard to think about what you’re grateful for and have it be beneficial, however, there is evidence to suggest that taking time each day to think about what we are grateful for is actually beneficial for our mental health.
I was introduced to the concept of incorporating gratitude into my workday by one of my past directors. I was working for a mental health counseling center and she invited us as a staff at the beginning of each staff meeting to go around the table and say what we were grateful for.
When she first proposed this exercise I saw and heard a number of people roll their eyes and make a sound of annoyance. I felt myself get nervous at the thought of verbalizing out loud what I was thankful for in front of others. And I found a part of me not wanting to share due to fear of judgment, criticism, or that I didn’t deserve to think about such things. A part of me thought my day should be filled with stress and complaining about how busy I was in order to prove my value as an employee.
Our director made it clear that sharing was voluntary and I found myself opening up to the idea of saying out loud what I was grateful for each day during staff meetings. Some people shared and some people didn’t, and there were some days when I didn’t feel like sharing anything at all. But as time went on and I challenged myself to share, something opened up inside me that prepared me for the day where I wasn’t just focused on the busy schedule or stress of getting all my work done before 4:30 p.m.
Instead of being stuck with the part that believed I should be doing more, stressing more, or complaining more, I was connecting to others around me and was connecting to my self-leadership of compassion, joy, and creativity.
Throughout my studies in meditation, psychology, and yoga, I kept coming across teachings talking about the importance of incorporating gratitude. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology conducted a study in which every week one group wrote down their weekly gratitudes, one group wrote their weekly burdens, and the third group wrote a weekly neutral journal.
After nine weeks, the group that practiced gratitude exercised their bodies up to 40 minutes more each week, had an increased optimism by five percent or more, and felt that life was better overall. This study and many more have shown that gratitude changes our brains and how we perceive the world, going from a negative mindset to a more positive one.
So how do you start incorporating gratitude into your daily life? One technique that I use every night when putting my son to sleep is called, GLAD. Try incorporating this exercise once a day at the same time or during the same event each day to help make it a lifelong practice:
G: Gratitude: Think about one thing you are grateful for today L: Learned: Think about one thing you learned today A: Accomplished: Think about one thing you accomplished today D: Delight: Think about one thing that brought you joy today
Other techniques include:
• Thinking about one thing you are grateful for before you get out of bed in the morning • Having a gratitude journal in which you take time at the end of the day to write down what you are grateful for. This can be helpful if just thinking about them is more difficult • Inviting a daily walk for 5-10 minutes where you notice things around you that you are grateful for • Sharing your gratitudes with friends or family can help build connection at the end of the day
Inviting gratitude on a daily basis can be a radical shift for your brain, body, and mind set. It can bring more happiness, positivity, and emotional openness in just two weeks. These benefits are long-lasting, which leads to an overall increase in well-being, which results in you being stronger and more resilient to stress.
It might feel like a challenge at first, especially if the parts within us that are in charge of ‘what if’s and ‘should’s’ have been running the show for a long time. Be patient and compassionate towards the parts of you that challenge the concept of gratitude. Invite these exercises during already existing habits in order to make it more likely for you to do them long term, such as when you wake up in the morning, during your lunch break, while putting your kids to sleep, while taking a shower, or when you lay down in bed at night.
Set an intention to invite gratitude into your day and notice how it shifts your energy from a space of fear, negativity, and stress to a space of compassion, positivity, and calm.