I don’t know about you, but I heard “gratitude” thrown around and pounded into me from a young age at church. It began to lose its meaning and I pretty much tuned out as a kid. Sure, God has given us everything and we should be grateful. I figured it was something I needed to feel for God’s sake.
But recently I’m learning about how gratitude can benefit me. Selfish, right? But stick with me. Rachel Hollis says “It is impossible to be anxious and grateful at the same time.” That doesn’t mean that if you have an anxiety disorder you aren’t grateful, it just means those two emotions don’t coexist in any given moment.
In a moment of anxiety, we are focused on everything that is wrong with our lives. We are afraid of what is happening or what could happen, we are worried about what others think or what someone said to us, we are upset with ourselves and feel that we are flawed. Gratitude on the other hand is focusing on everything that is right in our lives. It counteracts the anxiety quicker than anything I’ve used before.
Don’t worry if you don’t feel particularly grateful in your circumstances right now. You might be going through something so impossibly painful that you feel there is nothing to be grateful for- I’ve been there. Wanna know a secret? You can still make yourself feel grateful. You can cause yourself to feel any emotion you want by changing what you think about. Our thoughts create our emotions, so if you want to feel grateful start by thinking gratefully.
For me, the trick is gratitude meditations. I’ve found some good ones here and here, and you can also Google it for others. Find one that resonates with you and start doing it as often as you can. Spending that time making your brain think about gratitude will train it to think about gratitude more often during the rest of your day. Which will in turn help you feel more gratitude. Which will then make you feel less anxiety, because anxiety and gratitude can’t coexist in your body.
Other ideas for practicing that I’ve heard of are gratitude journals, setting an hourly timer on your phone that reminds you to think of something you are grateful for, or taking gratitude walks where you list off things you are grateful for the whole time you are walking. Mindfulness also increases our ability to be grateful because the more we are aware of the present moment, the more we realize what a gift it is.
I want you to know that I only ever write about things that I’m implementing in my own life, so I know they work. I’ve been focusing on gratitude practice since last fall and I honestly attribute my huge increase in emotional wellness to my gratitude practice (along with other key habits that I’ll continue to talk about). I know it works, and I know it is worth your time to try. If you make these investments in yourself you will find greater capacity to do your daily work, care for others, and be successful. Plus improving your emotional health will save you a giant mental breakdown later so…