Why You Shouldn’t Think About Gratitude
We hear a lot about the value of taking time for gratitude, especially around Thanksgiving time. Research shows it can help us sleep better, be more optimistic, more easily forgive others, improve our immune system, plus more. Yet if we just think about gratitude, we miss out on most of the benefits. We can quickly come up with a list of things we are grateful for without experiencing a connection to them. But if we want to truly “feel” grateful, it needs to be heartfelt, not just a thought. It’s funny how I can notice the difference. If I just think of something I appreciate, I don’t feel any different. But when I feel grateful, there is an emotional and physical shift. Studies show that this is caused by chemical changes in our body that improve our physical and emotional wellbeing.
So how can we go beyond thinking about gratitude to feeling it? Various approaches will work differently for each of us, but here are some of my favorite strategies you could try.
- Make it a discussion with someone else. Share what you’re grateful for and provide background and context to the other person. This can help bring it to life.
- Reflect on why you’re grateful for it. Why is it helpful or beneficial for you or your life? Keep digging to find the true “Why.”
- Consider how your life would be without it. The trick is to do this without taking it to the point that you feel sad about the possibility of losing it; just enough to really appreciate it.
- Create a mood or environment that makes it easier to feel the emotion of gratitude. Maybe it starts with listening to a favorite song that touches your heart, or remembering a special time that helps you feel heart-centered.
Give one or two of these a try and see if you notice the difference. Things you might choose to appreciate could include a person, a place, a situation, a thing, an opportunity, or even something you’re glad you DON’T have. You could find things from your current life, your past, or even things you are looking forward to. For more insights, check out this article by Dr. Robert Emmons, a leading researcher on gratitude. Or find inspiration in these responses from people on how they use and benefit from gratitude in their lives.
Tina Hallis, Ph.D., is the founder and owner of The Positive Edge, a company dedicated to helping individuals and organizations increase their positivity to improve the quality of people’s work lives and the quality of company cultures.