GRATITUDE: HOW TO PRACTICE
by Alan D. Keck, PsyD
Much of what we have learned about the science of Positive Psychology originated in the world’s various spiritual and wisdom traditions that supported the world’s population for millennia, long before psychology and mental health became science. Among the four general Character Strength factors we identified from those traditions, Gratitude is considered to be part of “transcendence”, the one that most people would probably consider more “spiritually” oriented, and yet its application is very simple and practical.
Among the many Positive Psychology practices and methods, I believe that this one provides a huge “return on investment”, so if you want to do just one thing to make your life better, start practicing Gratitude in an intentional way. While there are many ways to include it in your daily life, the way I teach is based on the research on Gratitude and related areas of psychology. With just a few weeks of practice, you can find that you have started to train your mind—“re-wire” your brain—to become more aware of “what’s going well” in your life, which in turn boosts your mood. Some people who are spiritually oriented believe that this actually attracts more “good” into your life.
Pick a time in the evening to practice. Near bedtime might be a good time, because thoughts at this time tend to “sink in” better than those earlier in the day. Establishing this habit, even for just a month or so, can help to build the other beneficial habit of noticing positive experiences or assets every day. If you pray in the evening, this might be a natural time to include Gratitude.
Think about something you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be a big thing; it could be an experience, a material thing, or a relationship. It could be something that happened that day, or something that’s always there. Other ways to find your Gratitude are to ask “what do I appreciate”, or “what would I miss if it stopped or disappeared”. One approach to this is called “three blessings”; while three is certainly a nice number, you could identify five, ten, or even just one thing that you appreciate.
Allow yourself to the gratitude, happiness, etc. This is where the actual energy to change your brain and habit patterns comes from. Allowing yourself to have a gentle smile while doing this can help.
Practicing Gratitude is a simple but powerful way to shift to a more positive attitude: when you know that you’re going to be remembering what you’re grateful for at the end of the day, part of your mind becomes more alert to noticing what’s going well throughout the day.