Doing "Gratitude" the Right Way

Is it possible to do gratitude wrong? I mean, it seems pretty simple, just list the things you’re thankful for. “I’m thankful for my family and friends and a comfy bed to sleep in at night.” Done! It’s how many of us, including myself, treat thankfulness, like it’s a grocery list of items we check off and move on from out of moral obligation. After years of doing this, I recognized that I don’t think I’m actually grateful for any it, and that scared me! I really do have a wonderful family and everything I could ever ask for so, why am I still unsatisfied? What is wrong with me!? I’m so selfish! How can I actually mean what I say and actually FEEL it?

After philosophers and world religions spoke about the power of gratitude, modern psychology picked up on the topic and began to study it. What kinds of actions actually lead us to experience gratitude in a way that we are impacted with a rush of appreciation and felt thankfulness? I explored two interventions that seemed to show the greatest short and long term effects for participants, and they WORKED for me.

INTERVENTION #1: Gratitude Visit

HOW TO DO IT: Write a letter to someone you are grateful for (coach, parent, friend, coworker, your daily coffee supplier) and then hand deliver the letter.

WHY IT WORKS: My thoughts are that writing an actual letter allows you to slow down and take time to really think about how this person has made a difference in your life. Just saying “thank you,” doesn’t direct the neural connections in your brain to make pathways of gratitude! And the process of personally delivering your letter will foster that social and emotional connection that humans thrive off of. Caution, crying is bound to occur…Have you every cried out of gratitude and love before? It’s amazing, you have to try it.

INTERVENTION #2: Gratitude Journal

HOW TO DO IT: Write down 3 specific things you are grateful for everyday

WHY IT WORKS: We are what we focus on. We see what we choose to set our eyes on. Before you throw out this intervention because it has the word “journal” in it…STOP! This is not a full journey entry where your hands begins to hurt. This is about noticing the good and documenting it so that you physically change the structure of your brain by rewiring what it automatically thinks about. When I started my gratitude journal, I was amazed at how difficult it was to find something specific I was grateful for besides, “my family.” What I noticed is that I started to live my days actively LOOKING for things that made my day, made me smile, or caused me to feel thankful so that I actually had something to write in my journal. In this way, my lifestyle changed. I lived to be grateful and be a person that was generous to others so that they could feel what I felt, which was joyful, loved, and hopeful.

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