ST. GEORGE – Experts, and common sense, tell us that expressing gratitude can help us develop a more positive outlook on life and even make us happier.
It’s easy to get caught up in complaining, but focusing on the good rather than the negative can make a big difference, therapist Jeffery J. Ford said.
“When we can take the small things and expand how we feel about them, it can dramatically improve our mental health,” Ford said. “Studies show that when people adopt this type of attitude, they report a life filled with much more satisfaction, or what most of us call ‘happiness.’”
A licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in St. George, Ford said that the logical left side of the human brain focuses on problem solving and is devoid of feelings, while the right side of the brain is where people feel emotions and manage relationships.
“Gratitude is a feeling that the right side of the brain grasps. The right side of our brain is really where we feel emotions and manage relationships,” Ford said.
“Gratitude is an emotion that validates receiving something from the universe, God or family,” he said, “and shows recognition for it in a thankful way.”
There are many recommendations therapists share with clients to help them develop this skill. One suggestion is to keep a gratitude journal.
“Not like a regular journal where we document our daily activities, but rather a journal where we include a sentence or two about what happened that we are grateful for, and then eight to 10 sentences about how the facts made us feel,” Ford said.
Ways to practice gratitude
According to Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School, there are several ways to cultivate gratitude:
- Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
- Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
- Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
- Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
- Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase, such as “peace,” it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).
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