How Practicing Gratitude Helps Mental Health
Practicing gratitude can help relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and angst by prioritizing our focus on what really matters.
It’s so easy to lose track of what’s good in our lives. We’re wired to look at things with a negative perspective. We’re drawn to what’s lost or taken away from us. It can be hard to take a step back and think about what we’ve gained. It takes work to practice gratitude, but it’s worthwhile.
Practicing gratitude helps shift your focus from losses and wanting to gains and abundance. It helps get you out of a depressive mindset and removes mental barriers so you can move forward in life. When you’re not practicing gratitude, you’re more likely to give up and not value what you do have in your life. It prevents a giving up mentality and a negative attitude. It also gives you a chance to take a deep breath and feel relief. “I have these things and they are not minor.” Appreciating what we have leads to greater feelings of overall satisfaction in life.
Practicing gratitude keeps you more down to earth with the reality of your daily life. It prevents you from losing sight of any positivity or goodness in your life. No matter how dark your life may feel, there’s always some glimpse of something to hold on to. Practicing gratitude adds fuel to the value of your life so you can keep moving forward and feel good about yourself.
Practicing gratitude builds resilience, empowers you, and enables you to make your own decisions. It’s about pausing, taking deep breaths, and knowing that you are OK. It helps you realize that you have more than you give yourself credit for. If you don’t have something you want or need, it gives you the opportunity to acknowledge that you have the ability or capacity to work towards achieving those things or goals, which can help reduce depression and anxiety.
How to Feel Grateful and What to Feel Grateful For
Expressing gratitude can help us understand the difference between wants and needs. When our basic needs are met, we often take them for granted, especially the things that come with ease. Then we get caught in the cycle of wanting more and more. Then when we don’t get what we want – material items, man-made things, the perfect job, a perfect lifestyle, a perfect relationship – we get hung up on those losses and fail to appreciate what we do have.
But take a step back and acknowledge and appreciate what you have – you’re in a safe space, you have a roof over your head, and people care about you. Ask yourself, “what do I have?” “What needs are met?” Take a look around you – what physical objects are around you? In your home? All of the stuff around you, the stuff that you own, means that you have the freedom to make choices to buy things for yourself. “I have a job to give me the ability to buy things for myself that I need or want.” “The kitchen is full of food.” “I don’t have to worry about being able to take a shower or get water.” Those are basic needs that have been met, and it is remarkable. Reflect on what makes your life OK, acknowledge that those could be taken away, and express gratitude for those things. How does that feel in the moment? That can help give you a sense of security and make you realize that you do have abundance.
There are things that happen outside of our control that could result in the things we do have being taken away: job loss, injury or illness, death of a loved one, etc. When those basic things we have are taken away, we miss them and realize we took them for granted. Practicing gratitude is taking a mindful approach to appreciating what we do have now, before we lose them and feel bad for not appreciating them when we had them. When we take things for granted and then lose them, we look back and say, “I should have really appreciated that person or thing when I had the chance.” It’s not that you will lose those things, but you may lose those things. That feeling of regret and not appreciating it while you had it can be a greater loss than the loss itself. But that is something you can change and control. You do have something in your life currently and can really appreciate it and really love it. Then if you lose those things, you can look back and say, “I made the most of that relationship, the most out of my health, the most out of my freedom, and I’m grateful for what I did while I had it.” Knowing that you appreciated something while you had it is a good feeling you can hold on to.
Be careful not to compare yourself to others when practicing gratitude. Thinking things like, “at least I’m not living in a war zone,” “at least we’re not poor,” can lead to thoughts like, “I have nothing to complain about,” or “these are just first-world problems.” It minimizes your valid feelings, can layer on feelings of guilt, and can lead you down a negative path thinking about all of the bad things going on in the world. Practicing gratitude is about positivity.
How to Manifest Gratitude Through Action
Practicing gratitude is not just about feeling grateful, but practicing it through actions. When we reprioritize our focus on what’s important, nurturing those things can help increase our awareness of what we have and prevent us from taking them for granted.
Make practicing gratitude an everyday ritual. Each morning, think of three things you are grateful for – they can be the same or different each day. It can be a meditation or spoken aloud. Then throughout the day, nurture them. If you are grateful for someone in your life, tell them you love them, send them a card, or give them a call and tell them you are grateful for them. If you are grateful for your job, put a little more effort into it. If you are grateful for your health, make healthy eating choices or exercise to nourish your body. At night, reflect on what you did to nurture those things. If it’s helpful, you can keep a journal and write down everything you thought and did.
Be mindful of those around you who may be struggling because they don’t have their needs met. Offer assistance when you can because it helps aid with gratitude. It’s not about comparisons, but being able to help others, whether it’s through volunteering, a charitable donation, or a personal favor, is a form of abundance you can be grateful for. It means you have extra time, energy, or income. Offering a listening ear for someone who can’t figure out how to deal with something is something you both can be grateful for. Express gratitude that you can offer sound advice or support – not everyone can offer that.
Learn to Feel Grateful and Love Your Life!
If you are struggling with discontentment and feeling grateful, therapy can help shift your perspective so you can feel good about yourself and whatever situation you are in. Dr. Violante can help you feel grateful for what you do have so you can prioritize and nurture what’s important to you. She offers online therapy to adults living in Florida and New York, as well as all PsyPact enrolled states (listed below). Contact her online or call (754) 333-1484 to request a HIPAA compliant teletherapy session.
Offering Online Therapy in 39 States
I am a licensed psychologist in the states of Florida and New York. Additionally, I have Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) from the PSYPACT Commission. I provide telehealth (online video therapy) to adults living in the 39 participating PSYPACT states listed below. For a list of current PSYPACT participating states, please visit the PSYPACT website at: https://www.psypact.org/psypactmap.
PsyPact enrolled states:
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming