Gratitude is all over the internet. I often see gratitude challenges on Facebook and Instagram, with people posting pictures of what they’re grateful for on a daily basis until the challenge is up.
It’s backed by science: completing a gratitude journal has been researched by Positive Psychologists and found to have numerous mental health benefits including less feelings of depression and stress and more feelings of alertness, determination, altruism and optimism.
Pretty much the only negative to practising gratitude is that it’s difficult to motivate ourselves to continue – the participants in the research studies usually gave up the practise not long after the study was over, despite the benefits they experienced while doing the gratitude journal!
How can you make it easier for yourself to practise this helpful habit? Here’s a few ideas:
Download a Gratitude App
Yes, of course there’s an app for it! I like Gratitude Journal 365 because it lets you post pictures into it, so you can see at a glance when you open the app what’s been making you smile recently.
The advantage of an app over posting on social media is that you can continue it long term (no worries about over posting), you can put whatever you like in it (no worries about over sharing), and when you open the app, you’re not going to be distracted by a whole newsfeed – just reminded of what you’ve been grateful for lately.
Having an app is also a great reminder. Most people look at their phone dozens of times a day, and if the app is right there looking at you, you’re more likely to open it and use it than if you’re keeping a list on paper – most people don’t open a notebook multiple times a day anymore (although it’s a great idea – check out my post on why you should carry a notebook with you!).
Practise only when you’re feeling down
While research studies have focussed on daily practise, you can use gratitude in another way – to instantly shift a crappy mood. When you find yourself upset, frustrated or hurt by something, bring to mind something you’re grateful for IN THAT MOMENT.
This is quite different to trying to reflect back on your day at the end of it, and different even to trying to remember all the good things in your life in the moment you’re feeling bad.
What you often find when practising gratitude this way is an appreciation of the very thing that’s causing you frustration! E.g. if you’re upset at what your partner has said to you, gratitude in the moment often takes the form of being grateful for the fact that you have a partner at all. Similarly, this applies to all sorts of challenges – upset about work (but grateful you have a job), angry at your kids (but grateful you have kids), frustrated at your injury (but grateful you’re alive).
It doesn’t have to take this form – you might find yourself grateful for the hot shower that allows you to have a good cry in comfort! The key is to find something you are happy for right then. Drawing attention to that thing you’re happy about, which actually exists for you in that moment, allows you to shift focus from the negative to the positive much more easily, because you’re focussing on something that’s real and in front of you.
Practise only when you catch yourself comparing
Comparing yourself to other people who have more of something than you do (whether or not that comparison is accurate, or just based on their social media feed!) is guaranteed to make you feel terrible. It’s the opposite of gratitude: comparison is about focussing on what you lack, and it has the opposite effect to gratitude on your mental health. Comparisons lead to more feelings of depression and isolation, and increased stress. If there was ever one time to practise gratitude, it’s when you find yourself comparing your life to someone else’s.
To reverse it, looks for what you’re grateful for in the specific area you’re comparing – e.g. sure they’re skinnier than you, but what do you like about your own body, in and of itself? Curvy people look better in pencil skirts and I feel your sense of style outweighs hers anyway.
You can also invoked gratitude by comparing yourself to somebody who’s worse off than you in the area you’re concerned about, so that you invoke gratitude by using comparing to make yourself feel better, not worse.
The advantage to ‘only’ using gratitude when you’re in comparison mode, or when you’re feeling upset, is that uncomfortable moods and comparisons happen on a pretty regular basis anyway! So you’ll find that you practise gratitude regularly, without needing to motivate or remind yourself to do so. The reminders come just as life happens, and the motivation comes from knowing you can do something to change your own mood instantly.
Do you struggle to find things in your life that you’re grateful for? It might be because you’re not living by your values. For more information about how to find and live your values to increase your satisfaction with your life, download my free guide now.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.