In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote that gratitude is many things including wonder, appreciation, seeing the bright side, thanking people and God, counting blessings, savoring, and more. Grateful thinking gives us a happiness boost because it:
- Increases our satisfaction and enjoyment when we savor our positive life experiences
- Increases self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence
- Increases moral behavior and our willingness to help others
- Builds social bonds and strengthens relationships
One of the most common gratitude practices is documenting your blessings in a gratitude journal. I’ve written about this type of gratitude practice before (which you can read here), and was interviewed about my gratitude experience for another blog post, which you can read here.
But when we are struggling, it can be difficult to see the good things. I was recently searching for the “silver lining” in a challenging situation. Unable to see past the negative aspects of the situation, I only identified five positives (and they were weak ones – I was really stretching). Knowing that I was struggling with this, a wise friend suggested that instead of focusing on the positives about the specific situation or people involved in it, I focus instead on the positives that have happened because of the situation.
In other words, my friend encouraged me to take a more holistic look and consider it from this perspective: “Because of this situation or relationship, I’ve been able to…”
When I returned to my journal with this question in mind, I quickly came up with over 25 positive outcomes – a far cry above the original five. This robust list came easily and everything I documented were real, meaningful outcomes. This simple reframe and the resulting action were instrumental in releasing negative feelings about the situation and supporting me in moving forward in a more positive and productive manner.
How strong is the character strength of gratitude in your life? If your gratitude muscles could benefit from a boost, I invite you to experiment with one or more of these practices:
- Each day or each week, document three positive things for which you feel grateful. You’ll need to find the frequency that works for you; it should help you reflect in a positive manner, not feel like a chore.
- Send a note or letter of gratitude to someone who has made a difference in your life. Tell them specifically how they have helped you, and which of their characteristics or qualities they used in that situation (make it more about them than you). For more information and an example, refer to this post from June, 2015).
- Set aside time each day to savor something good in your life. When you complete a task, accomplish a goal, or have another positive experience, take a few moments to bask in the positive feelings rather than rushing on to the next thing. Reflect on your own positive qualities that led to the positive experience.
- To take this a step further, create an appreciation list about your own good qualities. Refer to this previous post for more information.
- Over a family dinner, take turns sharing with one another the positive things that happened to you that day.
“People who are consistently grateful [are] relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful.”
How do you practice gratitude, and what results do you see from your practice?
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Group.
Character Strengths and VIA Survey
Peterson, C., & Park, N. (2009). Classifying and measuring strengths of character. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology, 2nd edition (pp. 25-33). New York: Oxford University Press. www.viacharacter.org
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. www.viacharacter.org