How to Cultivate Gratitude

Staff Therapist Carol Blum, M.Ed, CAC, MFT, LPC works with mindfulness techniques. She also has 20 years experience working with clients who have experienced trauma, grief, health concerns, addiction, depression, anxiety, and serious mental illness.

Research in neuroscience tells us that regular doses of gratitude can change the wiring of our brains just like regular doses of exercise can strengthen our muscles.  Changing our brain circuitry with doses of gratitude ultimately makes it easier for us to become more joyful on a more regular basis. When our brain stores positive feelings, it grows and strengthens pathways that allow us to take in the good.

If this makes sense to you and you do not have a gratitude practice, then why not develop a gratitude practice?  If you have difficulty starting or need ongoing support, please ask for help.If you are skeptical about this research but curious about the effects of gratitude, then here is an experiment for you to try.

Write down 5 situations that trouble you.  Just reflect upon them for a while and do nothing else.  Notice the effects.

At a different moment, try writing down the same 5 troubles.  This time, next to each complaint, try to write down a statement that could be viewed as positive with respect to this trouble.  This might be very challenging.  If you recently suffered a great loss – health issues, the death of a loved one, something powerfully sad – this may be tough or not possible at the moment.  Do the best you can.

An example might be, “Ugh, I am so depressed, scared, and angry during this divorce process. Every day feels like climbing a mountain.”  Maybe some time needs to pass here before you can summon up a positive statement next to this divorce statement.

When you are ready, one example of a positive statement might be, “Yes, this divorce feels like I am in a dark tunnel, all alone and with no light at the end.  At the same time, I am thankful that my health and the health of my children is good.”

If you are having difficulty creating statements with gratitude, do not hesitate to try asking for help from a trusted resource.  After you have placed statements of gratitude next to your statements of challenge/troubles, please notice the effects.  Do you feel any lighter at all?

Maybe this practice will take some time to feel lighter.  Would you be willing to try this practice for one week?  I often say, “This practice is free.  And you can take it with you wherever you go.”  You will want to continue trying out gratitude at home, at work, at school, while walking or driving, in the morning, afternoon or middle of the night.

Gratitude can be a powerful inoculation against self-pity.  Where self-pity can lead to increased depression and anxiety, gratitude can lead to increased relief and contentment.  Now, I am not suggesting that people wear rose-colored glasses and block out their true feelings and thoughts.  On the contrary, being mindful of one’s thoughts and feelings help us to manage them appropriately.  Adding gratitude can help us build increased neural connections for resilience.

If I am struggling to improve my mood, I try to be thankful for some basic things that we often take for granted. A few examples:

  • Thankful for heat and hot water, on this winter day
  • Thankful for safety, especially on a long drive today
  • Thankful for stable health when I know others who are struggling with health
  • Thankful for family, friends, and neighbors each day
  • Thankful for access to music, books and art today
  • Thankful for patience with my partner, children, dog at a specific moment today

Wherever your gratitude lies, may it help you improve your mood and resilience.

Staff Therapist Carol Blum, M.Ed, CAC, MFT, LPC works with mindfulness techniques. She also has 20 years experience working with clients who have experienced trauma, grief, health concerns, addiction, depression, anxiety, and serious mental illness. Interested in therapy with Carol? Request an appointment today. 

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