An Attitude of Gratitude
With the holidays looming ahead, the days can be a struggle for people who deal with mental health issues. The stress of family celebrations, gift-giving, or the hardship that might come with being alone over the holidays, can all make us feel less-than-cheery about the season.
But something I’ve found is that being grateful — experiencing and expressing gratitude — can help us survive some tough times.
Tips for Getting Grateful: Authentic Gratitude
I’ve learned about the power of gratitude through experience. Today I have a journaling practice, where I often write about and meditate on what I’m thankful for.
But there were stages in my life when I couldn’t summon any gratitude, where I often felt guilty, like I should be more grateful than I was.
I talked in my book, Inner Affirmations, about the struggles I went through during an abusive relationship. One of the biggest challenges for me was being truly grateful. I didn’t feel gratitude, I felt discomfort.
In fact, I was incredibly uncomfortable: about the direction my relationship was headed, about the person I was with, and about myself. I felt broken.
You could say I was out of alignment. I was also just trying to survive, and going through the motions of daily life. And struggling like that makes it incredibly difficult for ANYone to feel a sense of gratitude for anything.
Thankfully I had a wake up call, and realized that I’d been neglecting myself and my self care. I started journaling again—I found a way to feel like myself again. And eventually I was able to feel gratitude, but I had to dig deep within myself to find that gratitude and understand what I really valued.
Building Your Own Gratitude Practice
Understanding what we’re truly grateful for, at our core, means you’ll need to do a little digging, too. So here’s how I did that:
- Take ten. Make gratitude a self-care practice: To feel grateful, I needed to get quiet and tap into the things that truly moved me. I had to sit still and meditate on what things brought me joy each day, and sometimes I only had ten minutes to do that. I had to be with myself, and reflect on what I cared about most: time with my daughter, a gorgeous sunny day, etc.
- Breathe deep. I also found that breath work is the perfect way to slow down and support my gratitude practice. Taking full, deep breaths helps us to find calm and focus, and it’s a powerful way to tap into your own personal power. Being able to sit, breathe, and find gratitude—even in a chaotic and scary world—is an impactful way to live life and start the day!
- Make a list. When I spend that time reflecting on my days and what I’m grateful for, I make a note of what things really light me up: What’s a “HELL YES!” And what’s a “hellllll no?” And I can usually feel, in my gut, what actually moves and motivates me.
Gaining this understanding of what you truly value is a huge benefit, and psychologists are finding that making time to practice being grateful delivers a few rewards: “An individual who regularly engages in a gratitude practice may have more to benefit from besides more positive emotions, minimized stress, and improved relationships. That individual may also gain intrinsic motivation,” writes Najma Khorrami M.P.H. for Psychology Today.
Cultivating the Bigger Benefits of Gratitude
Making my gratitude practice a daily ritual has helped me discover what I truly value. And by understanding my core values, it’s been easier to discover what gives me a feeling of purpose and motivation. “With the attainment of intrinsic motivation, accomplishments can come quicker, satisfaction undeniable, healing much sooner, and endless space for constructive joy,” says Najma Khorrami.
A gratitude practice has been a key way to cultivate bigger benefits in my life: after all, I’m recording and writing down the things that truly make me tick. And taking the time to do that has opened the door to more gratitude—it’s given me more opportunity to love the life I’m living.