I rarely used to tell people that I appreciated them. I recall rejecting and criticizing kind things done for me, gifts given to me, etc, mostly because I focused more on the superficial/material aspect rather than the thoughtfulness and intent. When people tell me that I possess a “positive energy,” I’m often a bit surprised because I used to exude such negativity. One way that I was able to shift my perspective was by expressing gratitude on a regular basis. Such a feat isn’t as easy as people may believe. Solely telling someone that they “just need to be more positive” doesn’t help much, or at least I find those statements quite annoying because such statements negate the fact that there’s probably an underlying reason for the lack of optimism (ie, low self-esteem, depression, traumatic upbringing, grief, etc). The expression of gratitude takes time and practice, and when you’re not used to sincerely telling people that you’re thankful, then it’s going to feel awkward at first. For example, if a relative buys you a hideous Christmas sweater, focus more on the kind gesture rather than the dissatisfaction of the gift itself. As time goes by, the practice takes less effort and feels more sincere (ie, “Thanks Aunt Sally, the sweater will keep me warm during the winter months”).
If you need even more motivation to be thankful, the expression of gratitude also has many benefits: increased happiness, better physical health (more willingness to seek medical help, more involvement in physical activity), and increased self-esteem, to name a few.
In addition to sincerely saying “thank you,” the following is a list of strategies that may enhance feelings of gratitude (experiment and find out which ones work best for you to carry out on a regular basis):
1. Write a “thank you” note. Some people feel more comfortable with writing than verbalizing. Giving someone a note shows that you took the time and effort to write a few kind words.
2. Keep a gratitude journal. Take some time at the end of your day to recall 1-2 things that you were thankful for, or you can also designate one day per week to reflect on the things you were thankful for from the week. I’m not organized enough to carry a journal (I ended up writing on post-its which would clutter up my nightstand), but think it’s a great way to keep track of things you’re grateful for on a regular basis. My variation of journaling is doing a weekly “Thankful Thursday” post on my Snapchat (my username = freudandfashion if you’re interested in my weekly reminders).
3. Think of what you’re grateful for (as a regular practice, or during prayer if you’re religious). If you’re like me and can’t remember to write in a journal, then practice thinking or saying aloud to yourself what you’re thankful for from the day. Choose the time of day (I prefer bedtime right before sleep) and make it routine.
4. Express gratitude directly in person. This is my preferred route. As a psychiatrist, I strive to make sure I communicate directly because I believe it’s integral in relationships, including the development of good therapeutic connections with my patients. Ways to express gratitude directly includes buying coffee for coworkers (coffee at work always makes me happy!), taking a friend out to lunch, stopping by to visit a friend, etc.
5. Shift your perspective from negative to positive. If you find yourself in an angry mood, try shifting your focus by thinking of something that went well during your day. If you’re stuck in traffic and find yourself getting tense and irritable, try to express gratitude at that very moment. Saying what you’re thankful for can shift your mood as it changes your focus.
A lot of people tend to think that you have to express thanks for only major things such as having a supportive family, an education, a decent job, etc, but you can definitely be thankful for even the smallest thing that went well during your day. I’ve expressed gratitude for things such as hitting all green lights on my commute to work, seeing a cute dog that made me smile, not getting a parking ticket while out in Hollywood, etc. Basically, you can always find something to be thankful for. And with today being Thanksgiving, no better day to start implementing this practice than today!
I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving! xoxo, Vania
Photo by Marlon Santos