- Some mental roadblocks to gratitude include feeling impatient, having high expectations, or thinking that the subject is too sentimental.
- Devoting enough time to the practice can help change one's mentality about gratitude.
- With practice and effort, a regular gratitude practice can bring satisfaction, joy, empathy, and well-being.
Are you the type who wants to enjoy the benefits of gratitude but are finding it a difficult habit to adopt? Would you like to overcome that mental roadblock and seize opportunities to feel grateful?
First, let’s discuss why feeling gratitude (especially regularly) can be so hard for many of us.
There are at least three reasons. For starters, gratitude can seem touchy feely. The latest study supporting gratitude’s role in fostering joy seems to carry scientific weight, but you might be thinking: “I don’t need this. It’s not for me. It’s too sappy.” Next is the fact that many people feel like they don’t have the time for gratitude (and especially a gratitude practice!). Such folks are constantly bending over backward to finish the day in one piece. Finally, for those interested in feeling more appreciative (and adopting a habit of practicing gratitude), you might be procrastinating to even start or the habit might not just catch on.
Second, let’s discuss the reality: The benefits of a gratitude practice may, for some, not really show at least for two to three weeks. Such benefits can include greater empathy, joy, satisfaction, and wellbeing.
There are at least two reasons why many people fall short of experiencing the benefits of gratitude. For one, people can have high expectations which are not met. You may hear gratitude brings happiness, but if you are in the midst of severe depression or regular anxiety and expect a sudden turnaround, your hopes may not be instantaneously fulfilled. Alternatively, some people may grow impatient and give up on the idea.
Seven ways to approach a gratitude practice
In order to reap the benefits of feeling gratitude, here are seven ways to help you change your mentality.
- Gratitude is as rewarding as you make it out to be. A lot of people may refrain from a gratitude habit when it seems too sentimental or out-of-step with how they normally approach their lives. The truth is, all of us are seeking to make a satisfying life with the circumstances given. Gratitude, in dozens of studies, has been linked to greater satisfaction and wellbeing. If satisfaction is what you seek, gratitude is certainly one key ingredient. The more we seek out feelings of gratefulness, the more rewards it brings to our lives.
- Gratitude is a form of self-care. We all need time for some degree of self-care. The notion that gratitude is just for the noble does not hold up, especially these days. Self-care is as important as ever. A year and a half into the pandemic, self-care and the role that gratitude can play in self-care ought to catch our attention.
According to Harvard Health, when a gratitude habit is sustained, a person experiences more positive emotions. In turn, it seems that one’s mood becomes elevated. We all experience feeling down, frustrated, burned out, stressed, and more. With a gratitude habit, our minds can become better adapted to accept difficult feelings and shift to a more pleasant mood. As Tony Robbins says, “You can’t be grateful and angry simultaneously. You can’t be grateful and worried simultaneously.” I add: “You can’t be grateful and sad simultaneously. You can’t be grateful and stressed simultaneously.” Tony concludes, “If we cultivate gratitude, we have a different life.”
- Gratitude, like exercise, is an incredibly rewarding habit that takes regular focus and attention. It may seem difficult at first, but the challenge to feel grateful will subside with regular effort. Exercise is perhaps the number one piece of advice patients don’t like to hear from their doctors that they need to do. Gratitude, arguably just as important as exercise, is wisdom that can be hard to digest.
We may find it difficult to shift our focus and attention to what we appreciate. Remember though, your focus and attention on the present moment is enhanced through appreciation. Consequently, gratitude makes it easier to live and be in the present. Shifting focus routinely to what we can appreciate around us can make appreciation second nature after many weeks. If you feel grateful during a walk outdoors, savor the feeling. If you feel hungry before eating, take a second to shift your focus to gratitude for your meal. Your brain will reward you with more positive emotions.
- It’s best to have little to no expectations for what a gratitude practice may bring. Expecting too much from a gratitude practice may disappoint. Hence, it may be wiser to have little to no expectations for what a gratitude practice may bring. Yes, a gratitude practice might benefit the same despite whatever expectations you do have. Nonetheless, if you have high expectations and give up on the practice, you might exit feeling disappointed before giving enough time for your practice to reap the rewards.
- Try to see the fun in scanning your environment for the positive. Instead of giving up or feeling impatient, try to remain focused on helping yourself soak up the good because that’s ultimately what a gratitude practice can do for you. Making gratitude a habit, similar to exercise, is easier when considered fun or enjoyable. Giving up or feeling impatient is normal, just like going to the gym can feel like a chore. Yet, reaping the rewards, just like with exercise, comes with regular effort. Try to get creative in thinking about what you’re grateful for. Scan your work desk for things small and big; scan your dresser; scan your bathroom; scan your dinner table; scan the outdoors. Bring your focus to feelings of appreciation for whatever you find in these and other environments; savor the appreciation. Your brain will be stronger for this. And, your stresses could be minimized.
- Keep a gratitude list for three to five days out of the week, and keep this up for two weeks. In each list, name three things you are grateful for that day and elaborate on what you’re grateful for in at least one sentence, if not more. At the end of two weeks, reflect on your lists. See if this makes you feel better. If not, the habit may require a handful of more weeks (roughly six total) to feel an improvement.
- You can use gratitude to strengthen your relationships. When feeling lonely, isolated, or socially distanced, you can use gratitude to strengthen your relationships. If you haven’t been able to see your family and friends as usual for the past year, consider reflecting on what you are grateful for in each of your loved ones. Then, later you might share a phrase or brief thought (or just an emoji!) from your reflection with that loved one on a phone call or in a text. This gratitude reflection can be a great way to strengthen your relationships.
The rewards of a gratitude habit may end up being much more than you may have anticipated. Savoring feelings of appreciation provide for happier memories and reflections. The next time you consider giving up on gratitude, remember it can be hard from time to time (for practically anyone), but the effort is well worth it.