What does the word bring up for you?
Maybe it brings up warm feelings of thankfulness and joy… Maybe it brings up a whole bunch of shame shoulding (e.g., “I should be more grateful!”)… Maybe it brings up pain and loss (e.g., “There was a time when I was grateful, but my gratitude was taken from me.”)… Maybe it brings up vulnerability and anxiety (“If I allow myself to feel grateful, then something bad will happen and take it away.”)… Or maybe it does not bring up very much at all. Maybe you just feel neutral or numb to it, and you’re wondering why.
All of these are normal and legitimate responses to the word, “Gratitude.” And we may react to gratitude differently in different seasons of our lives. It’s important to check in with yourself and acknowledge your relationship with gratitude every so often. If you’re noticing some sort of negative tension in your relationship with gratitude, that’s ok. This is just a sign that there is work that needs to be done here.
There is a wealth of empirical support for practicing gratitude as an effective way to manage anxiety and enhance well-being. But how do we practice gratitude?
There are many ways to practice gratitude. To name a few…
-Listing things you are grateful for each day
-Posting gratitude reminders on your bathroom mirror or fridge
-Setting gratitude reminder alarms on your phone
Also, give yourself things to be grateful for throughout your day. For examples, give yourself time with you and/or time with people who matter to you, give yourself nourishment and exercise, give yourself nature, give yourself accomplishments, affirmation, compassion, and joy even in the mundane.
Yes. This sounds so simple and yet it can be really really challenging, especially when we are experiencing challenging seasons in life.
Common challenges to gratitude:
Gratitude takes practice:
In past blog posts, I have discussed the inherent negative bias that is wired in our brains. This bias protects us such that we can perceive threat quickly and effectively, but it’s not so great for our well-being. Gratitude takes time and effort to cultivate. We must practice leaning in and embracing it many many times before it becomes natural and accessible. Don’t expect yourself to get it right away and set yourself up for discouragement.
Do not use gratitude as punishment:
In the past, I used gratitude as a form of punishment and criticism toward myself. I did not do this intentionally, of course… Essentially, when I was struggling, and I received the message from myself or others that I “should” be grateful, I immediately felt ashamed and guilty for not being grateful enough, and I would be very hard on myself as a result. Do you think this motivated me to feel any more grateful? Do you think it made me struggle less? NO! Absolutely not. It just made me sink deeper into my struggle… Do not use gratitude as a form of punishment or shame shoulding. Give yourself grace and acknowledge that gratitude can be tough sometimes. Then, try to cultivate it gently without beating yourself over the head with it.
Do not allow forboding joy to rob you of gratitude:
“Forboding joy” is a process coined by Dr. Brene Brown, shame expert, in which we sometimes feel vulnerable and afraid to feel joy because we’re concerned that joy will be robbed from us, like a torturous tease. We do this with gratitude too. Sometimes, we feel vulnerable to make space for gratitude out of fear that it will be taken from us. But if you let forboding joy prevent you from having gratitude to begin with, then you don’t get to enjoy gratitude at all. Courageously let gratitude in your life regardless of the outcome. Life is short. You might as well, right?
This week, practice courageous gratitude.
Until next time,
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian (2016). The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: The mediating role of critizing, attacking, and reassuring the self. Self and Identity, 15 (2), 191-205.
Rosemarin, Krumrei, & Pargament (2010). Are gratitude and spirituality protective factors against psychopathology? International Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, 3 (1), 1-5.
Ruini & Vescovelli (2013). The role of gratitude in breast cancer: Its relationships with post-traumatic growth, psychological well-being and distress. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14 (1), 263-274.