7 Ways to Practice Gratitude When You're Feeling Depressed

7 Ways to Practice Gratitude When You're Feeling Depressed

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Are youfeeling down and not particularly grateful this Thanksgiving?

Well, you’re not the only one who can’t muster that grateful feeling. Depression, sadness, grief, and loneliness can make it difficult to do much of anything at times. When you’re depressed, you tend to focus on the negatives.

Perhaps you’re out of work or dreading seeing your high-conflict family. Or maybe you’re grieving or struggling with physical or mental health problems. You may be worried about terrorism and the general unpredictability of our world. Unfortunately, our problems don’t just disappear because it’s a holiday. When things are going wrong and you’re struggling, it’s hard to feel thankful.

Why bother practicing gratitude?

Findingsomething to be grateful for can feel like an awful lot of work. So, why bother?

Gratitude won’t cure chronic depression or a broken heart, but it may help ease your pain just a bit. Gratitude can provide hope. According to John Harrison, MA, LPCC, “Gratitude in moments of despair might simply be an awareness that your despair isn’t going to consume you.” And Jennifer Owens, LCSW, LMT, CPT, adds that “Gratitude reminds you of what you still have left and takes your mind off (if even for a moment) the pain you are suffering.”

I decided to consult mental health and relationship experts to provide you with some strategies for practicing gratitude when you’re feeling depressed. They each offer a different perspective and I hope at least one of them will spark your interest in gratitude as a useful part of feeling better.

1. Find something that doesn’t hurt

Shifting your focus away from your physical pain can provide a different source for gratitude. “When you are feeling physical pain (like body aches with depression or stomach aches with anxiety) find one part of your body that doesn’t hurt and tell it thank you! Repeat the phrase out loud, ‘I am grateful for my big toe, that doesn’t bother me and helps me to walk,’ ” recommends Owens.

2. Connect with others

Harrison suggests that instead of specifically focusing on gratitude, you can “make a conscious effort to connect to others: people you love, family, a trusted friend, a support group. Just focus on connecting and being present with them without an expectation of any result.”

3. Remember a time when someone was kind to you

“Think about a few times people have helped you and shown you true kindness,” encouragesRuth Spalding, LMSW. “Maybe you remember the time you had a rough day and someone was very kind to you in helping you navigate some bureaucratic process and you can still remember how relieved you felt because you were on the verge of tears. Maybe you remember a teacher taking time out of their lunch hour to go over an assignment when you were a kid and really struggling.”

4. What can you learn?

We all know that growth can happen as a result of struggle, but that doesn’t make it any easier when we’re in the middle of something overwhelming or painful. Lorena Duncan, LMFT, challengesyou to change your thinking when dealing with negative or toxic people. She says, “I’ve found it helpful to reflect on them as my Noble Adversaries and ask myself, ‘What are they here to teach me? What am I supposed to learn?’”

5.Express it

You can also give your mood a boost by expressing your appreciation for others. Owens suggests, “Call, text or email someone you are close to just to tell them to have a good day or that they are an amazing person. You could even thank them for being alive or compliment them on something you admire.”

Expressing gratitude for your ex is a tall order. Nicol Stolar-Peterson, a childcustody evaluator, encouragesparents to send videos or pictures of their child to theparent who doesn’t have visitation that holiday. She finds this can “build upon empathy, for not only the sake of the child, but for the sake of the parent. Gratitude for another parent, even when things have gone horribly wrong, creates an opportunity for growth.”

6. Focus externally

Renee Beck, LMFT, provides this useful mindfulness exercise: “Im grateful for this hot cup of tea.What is right in front of you? Chances are, there is something on your desk that holds some beauty.I amgrateful for the texture of this old, wood desk.No? Nothing catches your eye? Look further.I am grateful for the small ray of sunlight coming in the window.No sun? Look out the window, or open the door.I am grateful for the smell of fresh air.Are there any plants or trees nearby?I am grateful for that shade of green.Is it cold?I am grateful for the warmth of this blanket around my shoulders.Most gratitude exercises ask you to write three to five things you are grateful for; we just wrote six. Done! Our gratefulness can be accessed by little things throughout the day.”

7. Pay it forward

Even in your struggles, you probably realize there are people less fortunate. Angelica Shiels, Psy.D. shares her personal experience: “When I was in college, feeling sorry for myself because the only things I could afford were my disgusting apartment and ramen noodles, I drove across the country to volunteer (and live) in a homeless shelter for ten days. Suddenly I became very grateful.” Even if you can’tgive that much of your time, volunteering for a couple hours or buying a homeless person a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning is a win-win.

Now it’s your turn. How will you stretch beyond your depressed mood and try to practice gratitude?


images courtesy of Stuart Miles

7 Ways to Practice Gratitude When You're Feeling Depressed - Psychology

As a young adult entering my thirties, I'm starting to see more and more that the responsibility I once craved is vastly overrated.

Thinking back to childhood, I recall a feeling of spaciousness in which time didn't exist.

Those hours spent playing outside and running around the neighborhood created a buoyant experience that only knew it was time to go home by the growl of my stomach or the orange setting sun.

Although I didn't recognize it as such at the time, in that fun and light atmosphere, I tasted freedom.

Currently working as a coach, licensed therapist, and doctorate student has forced my default setting to change from one of relaxation to productivity. And that's had a noticeable impact on my mood.

I now sprint through my task list feeling the pressure to perform at a high level every day, effectively turning this race into a marathon. This mentality has slowly decreased the amount of time I spend in stillness and tranquility. And that's what makes practicing gratitude even more important.

When you're used to performing at a high level, you start overlooking the small things that make your life worth living. You fail to appreciate the blessings that make the marathon worth running. And you forget to soak up every moment with your loved ones.

Pausing to reflect and truly feel appreciative for the millions of things going well in your daily life is one of the most valuable practices you can do.

Practicing gratitude not only helps you feel more grounded and peaceful, it also improves your ability to share that love with others. To give back. Say thank you. And re-commit to your heart-held values.

Below is an exercise that can be written or completed aloud. Each number can be used as an individual practice or all 7 can be combined into one exercise.

Here are 7 easy gratitude exercises that make everyone--even the most pessimistic people--feel happier:

2. Spend time with your kids and be mindful when with them

Another way to spell love is T-I-M-E. Believe it or not, children and, yes, even adolescents, like being with their parents. Giving a child a lot of quality time with you teaches them the language of love—life’s greatest gift. Savor every moment together, big and small, and rid yourself of distractions at such times, including your smartphone. Being mindful helps you maintain empathy toward a child, and this provides important modeling of empathy, the most important emotion for developing gratitude and moral behavior. It will also give you and your child a heightened sense of appreciation for the things both of you love and for your relationship.

Reframing disaster

To say that gratitude is a helpful strategy to handle hurt feelings does not mean that we should try to ignore or deny suffering and pain.

The GGSC's coverage of gratitude is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation as part of our Expanding Gratitude project.

The field of positive psychology has at times been criticized for failing to acknowledge the value of negative emotions. Barbara Held of Bowdoin College in Maine, for example, contends that positive psychology has been too negative about negativity and too positive about positivity. To deny that life has its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks, and sadness would be unrealistic and untenable. Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth.

So telling people simply to buck up, count their blessings, and remember how much they still have to be grateful for can certainly do much harm. Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial happiology. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity. It means reframing a loss into a potential gain, recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude.

A growing body of research has examined how grateful recasting works. In a study conducted at Eastern Washington University, participants were randomly assigned to one of three writing groups that would recall and report on an unpleasant open memory—a loss, a betrayal, victimization, or some other personally upsetting experience. The first group wrote for 20 minutes on issues that were irrelevant to their open memory. The second wrote about their experience pertaining to their open memory.

Researchers asked the third group to focus on the positive aspects of a difficult experience—and discover what about it might now make them feel grateful. Results showed that they demonstrated more closure and less unpleasant emotional impact than participants who just wrote about the experience without being prompted to see ways it might be redeemed with gratitude. Participants were never told not to think about the negative aspects of the experience or to deny or ignore the pain. Moreover, participants who found reasons to be grateful demonstrated fewer intrusive memories, such as wondering why it happened, whether it could have been prevented, or if they believed they caused it to happen. Thinking gratefully, this study showed, can help heal troubling memories and in a sense redeem them—a result echoed in many other studies.

Some years ago, I asked people with debilitating physical illnesses to compose a narrative concerning a time when they felt a deep sense of gratitude to someone or for something. I asked them to let themselves re-create that experience in their minds so that they could feel the emotions as if they had transported themselves back in time to the event itself. I also had them reflect on what they felt in that situation and how they expressed those feelings. In the face of progressive diseases, people often find life extremely challenging, painful, and frustrating. I wondered whether it would even be possible for them to find anything to be grateful about. For many of them, life revolved around visits to the pain clinic and pharmacy. I would not have been at all surprised if resentment overshadowed gratefulness.

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As it turned out, most respondents had trouble settling on a specific instance—they simply had so much in their lives that they were grateful for. I was struck by the profound depth of feeling that they conveyed in their essays, and by the apparent life-transforming power of gratitude in many of their lives.

It was evident from reading these narrative accounts that (1) gratitude can be an overwhelmingly intense feeling, (2) gratitude for gifts that others easily overlook most can be the most powerful and frequent form of thankfulness, and (3) gratitude can be chosen in spite of one’s situation or circumstances. I was also struck by the redemptive twist that occurred in nearly half of these narratives: out of something bad (suffering, adversity, affliction) came something good (new life or new opportunities) for which the person felt profoundly grateful.

If you are troubled by an open memory or a past unpleasant experience, you might consider trying to reframe how you think about it using the language of thankfulness. The unpleasant experiences in our lives don’t have to be of the traumatic variety in order for us to gratefully benefit from them. Whether it is a large or small event, here are some additional questions to ask yourself:

  • What lessons did the experience teach me?
  • Can I find ways to be thankful for what happened to me now even though I was not at the time it happened?
  • What ability did the experience draw out of me that surprised me?
  • How am I now more the person I want to be because of it? Have my negative feelings about the experience limited or prevented my ability to feel gratitude in the time since it occurred?
  • Has the experience removed a personal obstacle that previously prevented me from feeling grateful?

Remember, your goal is not to relive the experience but rather to get a new perspective on it. Simply rehearsing an upsetting event makes us feel worse about it. That is why catharsis has rarely been effective. Emotional venting without accompanying insight does not produce change. No amount of writing about the event will help unless you are able to take a fresh, redemptive perspective on it. This is an advantage that grateful people have—and it is a skill that anyone can learn.

The Neuroscientific Research Into Gratitude

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.”

Gratitude was significant in ancient philosophies and cultures, for example, in the Roman culture, where Cicero mentioned gratitude as the ‘mother’ of all human feelings. As an area of neuropsychological research, however, it was a rare subject of concern until the last two decades (Emmons & McCullough, 2004).

Gratitude And The Brain

Neural mechanisms that are responsible for feelings of gratitude have grabbed attention (Wood, Maltby, Stewart, Linley, & Joseph, 2008). Studies have demonstrated that at the brain level, moral judgments involving feelings of gratefulness are evoked in the right anterior temporal cortex (Zahn et al., 2009).

In the same study, it was revealed that the reason why some of us are naturally more grateful than others, is the neurochemical differences at the Central Nervous System. People who express and feel gratitude have a higher volume of grey matter in the right inferior temporal gyrus (Zahn, Garrido, Moll, & Grafman, 2014).

Source: Author

Gratitude And Neurotransmitters

Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva, a well-known meditation training site, mentioned in one of her publications that gratitude as a ‘natural antidepressant’. The effects of gratitude, when practiced daily can be almost the same as medications. It produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment, the physiological basis of which lies at the neurotransmitter level.

When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.

By consciously practicing gratitude everyday, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.

Photo by Erzebethh from Pixabay Photo from Shutterstock

Gratitude And Social Psychology

Gratitude has a social aspect to it that argues it to be a socially driven emotion. Social psychologists believe it to be entwined with the perception of what we have done for others and what others have done for us (Emmons & McNamara, 2006).

According to them, gratitude is an emotion that directly targets at building and sustaining social bondings (Algoe, Haidt, & Gable, 2008) and reinforce prosocial responses in the future (McCullough, Kimeldorf, & Cohen, 2008).

Source: Author

7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round

It’s that time of year where many people begin thinking about everything they have to be thankful for. Although it’s nice to count your blessings on Thanksgiving, being thankful throughout the year could have tremendous benefits on your quality of life.

In fact, gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous. Research reveals gratitude can have these seven benefits:

1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or you send a quick thank-you note to that co-worker who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.

2. Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.

3. Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.

5. Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.

6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs – which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem- grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.

7. Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.

We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have – rather than complain about all the things you think you deserve. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.

Daily Gratitude Journaling

How to Do It

There’s no wrong way to keep a gratitude journal, but here are some general ideas as you get started.

Write down up to five things for which you feel grateful. The physical record is important—don’t just do this exercise in your head. The things you list can be relatively small in importance (“The tasty sandwich I had for lunch today.”) or relatively large (“My sister gave birth to a healthy baby boy.”). The goal of the exercise is to remember a good event, experience, person, or thing in your life—then enjoy the good emotions that come with it.

9 Gratitude Writing Tips

As you write, here are nine important tips:

1. Be as specific as possible—specificity is key to fostering gratitude. “I’m grateful that my co-workers brought me soup when I was sick on Tuesday” will be more effective than “I’m grateful for my co-workers.”

2. Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person or thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.

3. Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.

4. Try subtraction, not just addition. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negative outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented, or turned into something positive—try not to take that good fortune for granted.

5. See good things as “gifts.” Thinking of the good things in your life as gifts guards against taking them for granted. Try to relish and savor the gifts you’ve received.

6. Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.

7. Revise if you repeat. Writing about some of the same people and things is OK, but zero in on a different aspect in detail.

8. Write regularly. Whether you write every other day or once a week, commit to a regular time to journal, then honor that commitment. But…

9. Don’t overdo it. Evidence suggests writing occasionally (1-3 times per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. That might be because we adapt to positive events and can soon become numb to them—that’s why it helps to savor surprises.


Scientific studies have long investigated the link between laughter and uplifted mood. Those very same endorphins released during exercise are released when laughing and can flood the body with good vibes. Facial muscles are also activated when laughing and tensed muscles begin to relax. A relaxed body is less prone to a depressed mood than an uptight body. Laughing is a very immediate quick-fix mood enhancer, and it only takes a quick YouTube search to find yourself a big belly laugh.

What is gratitude?

From the time we are little, we are asked to thank others when they give us a gift or extend a nice gesture. We learn to thank automatically and as a social rule. But, how many times do we extend thanks for the little good things that happen to us daily? Do we really know how to be grateful?

We have all heard or read many definitions of gratitude, but experiencing gratitude at its core requires a conscious effort. How many times do we say 'thank you' without taking a moment to actually feel thankful?

Gratitude is a conscious, positive emotion one can express when feeling thankful for something, whether tangible or intangible.

Gratitude implies much more than showing good manners. It&rsquos a practice that requires acknowledging someone else's gesture towards us, or the things that are going well in our lives. It involves both a process of recognition of the positive, and its outcome.

Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.

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1. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Personality & Social Psychology, 88, 377-389.

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