This post has two things for you. I’m writing about why a regular but simple gratitude practice can make a real difference to your mood and mental health. Mostly from what the research says about it but also with a bit of personal experience mixed in. And then I’ll also share a free pdf with you to make what’s called a gratitude jar these days. This printable pdf is something that I’ve just created and to be honest just really love and use myself.
Gratitude is one of the 12 happiness-boosting activities that you’ll find mentioned within the positive psychology field again and again.
But before we really get into all the benefits of practicing gratitude, let’s just address something very obvious: It can be so hard to feel grateful when you’re suffering from depression.
Gratitude is about being not feeling
How can you feel grateful when you’re suffering from really low moods and are struggling with your mental health? I so get it. Depression is characterised by a lack of positive emotions and gratefulness is one of those. And yes, of course, feeling grateful will be easier for somebody who’s mostly feeling very happy than for somebody who’s not.
If you’ve read my post on happiness according to positive psychology, then you’ll know about the happiness set point. Some people are simply born happier. People with a lower happiness set point are going to find it harder to conjure up a sense of joy or gratefulness. These people are probably much more prone to focusing on annoyances and irritations. Coming up with reasons to be grateful for is harder when you feel that your mind is just not in the right place.
But when you keep in mind that it’s about being grateful, rather than necessarily feeling grateful, this whole practice can become easier.
Don’t put any extra pressure on yourself and just try to go with this practice, even if you’re not convinced in the beginning. You can’t control all your emotions but being grateful is a choice.
simple things, big changes
When you look up the research-based evidence for gratitude and its positive effect on wellbeing, it’s almost hard to believe just how good a practice it is. But I say almost because I’ve experienced this in my own life.
Back when I was feeling really down and was having a hard time coping with a big conflict in my personal life, I would get really irritable and angry. To the point where I felt that I couldn’t control my own thoughts at all and was instead controlled by them.
Diet, and exercise and mindfulness helped me a lot at the time, but gratitude had a big practice too.
If I found myself going down a very negative thought spiral in my head (and I caught myself doing so), then I’d “simply” do this: I’d list 10 things I was grateful for right in that moment.
It sounds too simple to actually have an effect, but it did. It changed a truly unpleasant and difficult moment into a more open-minded and calm one. Of course this practice wouldn’t necessarily solve my difficulties or the conflict, but my mood and perspective shifted. Most of all it allowed me more space to breath and stopped my thoughts from spiralling down further and further.
For months I was using this techniques in moments where “my mind got heated”.
Wonderful reasons why you'll benefit from practising gratitude
So many good reasons, right? I wish there was some kind of interactive button here as a blog feature so that I could ask you whether you’re already practising gratitude or not. A bit like the polls on Instagram.
But if you haven’t tried it yet, I hope I’ve convinced you to just give it a try. You might also be pleased to know that those research findings above stem from simple two to ten week studies. You don’t need to become a master in gratitude to reap its benefits.
And again, if you are suffering from depression then gratitude can be very helpful. It not only enhances positive motions but it also helps you to reframe past negative events and experiences.
Just a quick note before we move on: Practicing gratitude is not about ignoring what’s challenging and painful in your life. But it can be one of those tools in your tool kit that you can use to make life easier and better for yourself.
So, let’s about the gratitude jar!
Create your own gratitude jar
There are lots of easy ways to practice gratitude. You can do it right here and now with just your thoughts. Or you can write it down or even keep a journal. You can do it every day and think of 3 or 5 things you are grateful for – or whatever number feels right to you.
A really nice creative way to practice gratitude is by using a gratitude jar. I’ve been using doing that this year and it’s just a really nice activity to do each week. All you need is a jar and then simple gratitude cards. Each Sunday (or whenever suits you best) you take one card and write down three things you are grateful for. Fold it up, put it in the jar. When you’ve run out of cards, you’ll open the jar and read all your beautiful gratitude answers. You can obviously also do this activity once a day – whatever works best for you.
And remember, you can be grateful for big things and small things. If you’re feeling really low, then simply having been able to get up and take a shower can be huge thing to be grateful for.
To get my gratitude cards, just click on the image below and sign up to my weekly letters. You’ll receive them in your inbox and once printed you’ll be ready to go.