Gratitude has been a catch phrase of the last decade that you might be sick of hearing about, or feel is the domain of do-gooders and not for you.
But research by positive psychologists consistently proves gratitude is a worthwhile habit still needing our attention, showing it lessens anxiety and depression, deepens sleep, and leads to better general health.
(read more in our article, ‘Does Gratitude Really Work?’)
Have you given gratitude a whirl, but sure such great results are overrated? Or are you convinced that thankfulness might work for other people, but sadly, just not for you?
Try our gratitude tips below to keep your thankfulness going and fine tune your thankfulness into better moods.
7 Ways to Make Gratitude Work For You
1. Be committed and consistent… with a twist
Studies point to the fact that gratitude must be consistent to yield results, and not just something you do randomly when something nice happens. The truth is that without a commitment and a plan many of us fall off the gratitude wagon despite a good start. Why? Because gratitude is for most of us a learned habit, not a natural one. This means we are having to break through a much stronger habit of negative thinking loops, also called ‘cognitive distortions‘, and like any habit we try to break this can feel uncomfortable and frustrating.
A gratitude routine ensures you don’t give up before you get anywhere. And the good news?
Studies prove that long-term effects of gratitude can be felt from as little as a once a week commitment. In a study by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues
the results showed that practicing gratitude once a week for six weeks even showed greater boosts in happiness than a group who wrote gratitude journals three times a week!
Of course there are many factors that can affect such a study. The best way is to go with what works for you. If you find a once a week commitment to focussed gratitude is one you are far more likely to keep then a more stringent schedule, then obviously that is going to give you better results then resenting your gratitude practise and eventually letting it slide.
2. Write it down. Seriously
You might think of all gratitude tips this sounds too simple. Or start to protest you have written down what you are grateful for… when? Last month?
Are you consistently putting pen to paper with your thankfulness? Or have you secretly dwindled down to thinking of five things you feel grateful for as you drive home from dropping the kids off, half distracted?
Thinking grateful thoughts is all well and good, but positive psychologists saw results when their subjects actually wrote down what they are grateful for. Studies in educational psychology on the effects of handwriting on the brain show that the finger movements writing demands highly activates areas of the brain related to thinking, working memory, and processing information. In other words, your brain will take you more seriously if you write it down.
3. Try on different ‘sizes’ of gratitude
If gratitude feels too hard, it could be you are making it too big of a deal. You don’t have to be grateful for things like global justice all the time. It’s okay to be grateful for something as small as a new pair of shoes or finding a parking spot right near the grocery shop. Your brain will react in the same way as it doesn’t ‘filter’ gratitude by size.
On the other hand, if gratitude has become boring for you because you only focus on little things, then try different sizes on. Look at what you can be grateful for about your environment and even the world.
4. Drop the comparisons
Does your form of gratitude always involve things like, “I’m grateful I’m not living in a hut in Africa starving, I’m grateful I’m not unemployed, I’m grateful I am not overweight?”
No wonder it’s not working.
Your brain recognises comparisons, not as gratitude or appreciation, but as a negative. So while it’s useful to notice what others might lack as a starting point to see what you are grateful for, drop the comparison and move only into the positive. “I’m grateful for my great house and safe country and food on my table, I’m grateful for my fantastic job, I’m a grateful for my healthy body”.
And while you are at it, don’t mistake feeling indebted to someone as gratitude either. Guilt and obligation are again seen as a negative by your neural pathways.
5. Join forces
It can be hard to feel and think gratitude if everyone we know is miserable and complaining. Finding someone else who wants to commit to using the tool of gratitude with you can give you a support system and keep you on track. A weekly phone call to share what you are grateful for can also leave you more inspired and creative.
Another way to ‘join forces’ when it comes to gratitude is to simply make your gratitude about other people. If you can’t find things in your life you like, or your self-esteem has taken a hit and you are not up to feeling grateful for thing about yourself, focus on other people you are grateful for.
Or even try writing a letter to someone who has positively affected your life and then delivering it to them. In a comprehensive study on different positive psychology techniques, psychologists Martin E. P. Seligman and Tracy A. Steen found that writing such gratitude letters had the longest lasting mood benefits of any of the interventions tested.
6. Try mindfulness
Many of us walk around with brains completely mired in negativity and we are so used to it we take it for granted, or aren’t even conscious our brain has its own negativity radio show. No wonder gratitude hardly makes a dint.
Mindfulness, the habit of paying attention to what is around you right now along with what you are presently thinking and feeling, helps you to notice your negative thought stream in the first place, so you can then make positive choices to change it.
It also brings your attention into the present, and given that most of our worries tend to be over what we perceive we did wrong in the past or we project might happen in the future, the present moment is a far easier place to be grateful without over-thinking it.
7. Consider CBT
Cognitive behavioural therapy is focussed on helping you recognise and change your thought patterns. Having the support of a therapist to see how your thoughts are looping on negativity, as well as learning how those thoughts might be leading to actions that make your life hard to be grateful for, can be an amazing perspective shift. More importantly, it empowers you to then start choosing a life you can easily be thankful for. Many CBT therapists also integrate mindfulness nowadays, so you might want to ask when booking if that is an option.
Do you have any advice on how to make gratitude more effective you’d like to share? Start the conversation in the comment box below…
Photos by Sharon, Evelyn Lim, Lisa Rosario