A Guide to Gratitude: What Does Practicing Gratitude Mean to You?
By: Sam Tetzlaff, MS, LPC-IT
If you do a google search for the word "gratitude" you'll find yourself facing 172 million results. There are at least 9 TED talks on some version of the subject and Harvard Health Publishing recently put out a mental health letter with the tagline: "Expressing thanks may be one of the simplest ways to feel better." My point being–gratitude is a big deal and it's not a well-kept secret.
What I know about cultivating gratitude in my own life is that it is a practice. I can easily be agitated about my 50-minute commute to work each day. At the same time, when I choose to be grateful that I have my own car to transport me those 50 minutes to a job that I find truly fulfilling, I feel a lot better about it. Same goes for my pets. (Let's just be clear–I'm obsessed with dogs and cats...especially MY cats. See picture for immediate cuteness overload).
They have a habit of waking me up at exactly 5:10 am each morning, regardless of holidays and weekends. My kitten likes to destroy things that look fun (I'm just guessing on her motive here) and likes to crinkle bags only once I've fallen into a deep slumber. My adult cat is a food scavenger that will take things off the counter, consume them, and end up having diarrhea. They also will sit with me through any mood (something I'm eternally grateful for) and help me to appreciate simple things like a cozy bed, a slow morning with coffee, and a tasty meal. What I've found for myself is that feeling grateful comes down to what I intentionally choose to focus on.
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” –Epictetus
For you, it might be something else–which is why I've created a "Guide to Gratitude" in hopes that it will get you started with finding exactly what it looks like for you:
First off: What is it?
There are several definitions of gratitude. This is what Merriam-Webster has to say about it. And you'll find a few more thoughts below...What resonates with you?:
"Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can't feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice." –Harvard Health Publishing
"Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has. It is a recognition of value independent of monetary worth. Spontaneously generated from within, it is an affirmation of goodness." –Psychology Today
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend." ―Melody Beattie
Cool, tell me more!
Practicing gratitude is supported as a way to enhance well-being and satisfaction with life, have higher quality relationships with loved ones, promote better physical health, and even reduce symptoms of depression. And there are a variety ways to do it–from writing in a gratitude journal to mentally thanking someone.
With so many options, where to begin? I'd suggest figuring out your preferred way of learning (Are you a books person? Would you rather listen to a podcast?), and then check out one or more of the following in that category:
These recent lists can provide you with book recommendations:
These 20 Books on Gratitude Will Give You a Brighter Outlook on Life
An Attitude of Gratitude: 15 Books That Show Kids What It Means to Be Thankful
TED talks (in 15ish minutes):
Want to be happy? Be grateful | David Steindl-Rast (14.5 minutes long)
Discover the Three Keys of Gratitude to Unlock Your Happiest Life!: Jane Ransom (20 minutes)
Two words that can change your life | Tanmeet Sethi (16.5 minutes)
365 grateful project | Hailey Bartholomew (12 minutes)
A Variety of Podcasts/YouTubers focusing on gratitude:
The Positive Psychology Podcast- Bringing the Science of Happiness to Your Earbuds with Kristen Truempy
Creating a Gratitude Practice (From UW-Madison's Whole Health Library)
Thanks for reading,
P.S. See what our very own Liza Hahn has to say about practicing gratitude with a 3-2-1 activity here!
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]