By definition (according to Merriam-Webster), gratitude means "a feeling of appreciation or thanks" and "the state of being grateful." This state of mind is so beneficial to our lives—it has a deep effect on our mental health, overall well-being, relationships, and more. Who knew?
Andreas Michaelides, Ph.D., chief of psychology at Noom, says that there is a large body of empirical evidence that points to the importance of gratitude and the impact it has in our lives. He cites one study that found that assigning gratitude to unpleasant memories may help individuals process and bring emotional closure to these events. And he also states that practicing gratitude exercises has been proven to be effective for how people experience and evaluate their own lives. And lastly, he says that gratitude has been found to be uniquely important to psychological well-being, more than The Big 5 Facets (extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism).
Co-founder of Frame Sage Grazer, LCSW, adds that her definition of gratitude is intentionally taking notice of things you're grateful for and not fixating on the negative. "We actually evolved to place more emphasis on noticing the negative in our environment as a way to help us survive in a hostile landscape—having a keen eye and a focus on negative stimuli can help keep us safe from predators," she says. "On a primitive level, noticing the positive things in your environment doesn't serve survival like noticing the threats, but in a modern world, we have to counteract this instinct with an intentional approach to refocus on things that are neutral or positive. Ruminating on thoughts and sitting with emotions tends to foster the expansion of emotions of the same tone. Taking an intentional approach to gratitude can amplify positive emotions and experiences. Our energy moves towards whatever we focus our attention on."
That all sounds great for your overall health and well-being, but sometimes it can be hard to practice gratitude, especially if you're going through some hard times. It's natural and normal to not be able to experience gratitude all the time, and Grazer says it's okay to allow yourself to experience negative emotions without having to implement a positive and appreciative outlook all of the time. She suggests giving yourself the space to feel and experience those emotions and then shifting your attention to anything that you're grateful for. "You can do this in small steps. For some, that could look like noticing just one thing that you appreciate," she explains. "For others who are really struggling with finding the good, it can just be noticing things that 'aren't bad.' Also, it's okay to be hurting or unhappy and grateful at the same time. Just because you are grateful or experiencing some positive emotion doesn't nullify or invalidate your struggles. These experiences can coexist, and as you shift focus from one side to the other, you can allow your gratitude to expand."
And it's important to note that if you do choose to practice gratitude, it might not come to you easily nor will you see the benefits overnight. Laura Geftman, LCSW, a mental health consultant for Lina, says it's not magic. "It's an adjustment to your daily living that takes time and consistency. Incorporating this self-care practice into your life may create the positive change you've been looking for," she says.
But there are so many positive changes or benefits that you may encounter through gratitude. Take a look at some of them below.
And if you want in on some of these benefits, there are a few ways you can start practicing gratitude. It's not one-size-fits-all, and it's not limited to meditation, experience, or an event. Michaelides says some common misconceptions about the practice are that it takes a long time or that it needs to be verbally expressed or that it's difficult. You have many options when it comes to how you do it, so you can choose a way that works for you individually.
However you decided to start, just know it may take some time to get used to the practice. And you may need to tweak it and tailor it as time goes on. Do what feels good and helps you.