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As the holiday season approaches, there is more and more focus on the concepts of blessing, many people feel as though it is the time to pay extra close attention to what is meaningful in their life and express gratitude, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving Day or not. This sounds easy enough, but if you are going through a difficult time maybe it feels hard for you to feel grateful for much of anything. On the other hand, you might already express gratitude as part of your regular routine, regardless of what time of year it is. No matter your experience or rituals surrounding expressing gratitude, there is always something to be grateful for, no matter how small, and it is really beneficial to acknowledge that.

Some benefits of gratitude: 
  • Increased sense of wellbeing
  • Decrease in stress
  • Decreased sleeping problems
  • Increased physical health
  • Approaching your day with a sense of peace and calm
  • More able to handle problems that arise
  • Increased open-mindedness 
  • Improved relationships & connections with others

What exactly is gratitude? 

Some people would define gratitude as an emotion or “feeling grateful.” It is certainly possible to be in such an emotional state, but gratitude can encompass far more than that. Emotional states come and go, but you can commit to practicing gratitude by making a point of acknowledging and appreciating the things around you. This can then influence your emotional state. It can become all too easy to focus on the things that we don’t have or what we would like to have happen. For example, people often get stuck in the loop of thinking “I will be happy when X happens. The issue with this line of thought is that it detracts from the good that is happening for you RIGHT NOW. Practicing gratitude focuses on the present and helps you to get the most out of what you have in front of you.

Gratitude means appreciating things that were given to you, internal traits, situations, relationships, and things outside of yourself. This could mean simply being thankful for the sun shining, being alive, flowers blooming, food in the refridgerator, gas in the car, or someone paying for your coffee randomly, etc.

Ways of Practicing Gratitude 

So how do you go about cultivating and expressing gratitude? Where do you start? The first thing to do is to come up with a list of things you are grateful for. You can either do this mentally or jot them down. They can be  anything, from very simple things such as being in relatively good health, to having someone make dinner for you and your family when cooking feels like too much because of your current life circumstances. Be sure to try to include the little joys in life, like petting a dog on your way to work or seeing the sun filter through the trees. It’s these seemingly tiny things that can really keep you going on rough day…if you only take the time to notice and appreciate them. Often it helps to create a running list as the day goes, acknowledging these small blessings with a thank you to the universe before they pass on by and you get swept up into the rest of your day. 

You can incorporate expressing gratitude into your daily routine by taking a silent moment to yourself at the beginning and/or end of your day to focus your attention onto the things that you wish to express gratitude for. This is a private and easy way of expressing gratitude.

More ways to express gratitude: 
  • A gratitude “journal”
    • Listing 3-5 things at the end of each day that you have been grateful for.
  • Giving thank you cards/emails
    • Expressing thanks for specific things that people have done for you and saying WHY it was meaningful. This benefits you as much as them because you are shifting you way at looking at your day and relationships. 
  • Do random acts of kindness for people
    • Holding doors, smiling at someone, complimenting people, leaving the quarter in the buggy when you return it, helping someone if they drop something, etc.
  • Being kind yourself!
    • Practice self-care by eating nutritious foods, drinking water, getting enough sleep, allowing down time, using boundaries, etcThis shows that you appreciate yourself.
  • Give prayers/good thoughts out into the universe, even to people who have wronged you
    • If youre able to do this genuinely, you know you are operating from a place of peace and sincere gratitude. 

What To Do When Expressing Gratitude Feels Hard

If you have been hurt by other people or situations, expressing gratitude can feel impossible at times. When you’re operating from a place of hurt, shame, bitterness, or resentment, the concept of gratitude may feel too foreign. It might feel like doing some of the things in this blog would be fake, and you currently might not want to subscribe to the “fake it till you make it” mentality. That’s okay.

You might try looking to the past instead of the present for things to be grateful for. And at the very least, you can meditate on the idea that it is possible to be grateful for the present moment, because if you are alive and here then there is still a possibility that things can be different in the future. Being grateful for that hope and possibility is something to hold on to in the darkest of times. Even if you are struggling to think of ways that your situation could be different, trust in the idea that everything changes and attempt to be grateful for that.

Ongoing Help 

Especially if you are struggling to find things to be grateful for, counseling can be a tremendous help. A trained mental health professional can help you to focus on the positive things you have in your life, let go of things you cannot change, and cultivate the things that you value. If you’re feeling stuck in a place of anger this holiday season, make an appointment with Angelus today to start you on your journey to intentionally creating the life that you want to live.  

Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services