Dr. Susanna La
Gratitude: An Essential Emotion
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Do you ever notice telling yourself, 'I’m not good enough because I don’t have this or that?' Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling on social media and comparing yourself to others?
Our brains have evolved in a way, where we are constantly looking to want and have more to ensure our survival (Harris, 2017). In our society, it is easy to compare ourselves to people all over the world and feel the need to constantly upgrade the things we have. The battle of comparison is a losing one because we will consistently focus on what we lack.
During this holiday season, we can easily get caught up in material gift-giving and receiving. Having more material things does not necessarily mean we are happier in life. Sometimes we can have an abundance of things, but not be truly grateful for them.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is an important practice that can help us “go beyond just occasionally feeling more grateful to actually becoming a more grateful person” (Emmons, 2010). Psychologist Robert Emmons (2010) defined gratitude as an affirmation of goodness in the world, such as gifts (does not have to be material) and benefits given to us. Another aspect of gratitude encompasses the goodness that comes from outside of ourselves, including support given to us in the past and present.
It is important to keep in mind practicing gratitude does not negate the challenges and hardships we have faced and may continue to face in life. And, we do not have to ignore or invalidate our suffering by ‘looking on the bright side.’ Rather, gratitude can be a practice and emotion that coexists with all of our human experiences. We can make space for both wanted and unwanted emotions/experiences (read more about feelings of bittersweetness by clicking here).
Benefits of Gratitude
Engaging in life with intentional gratitude and feelings of gratefulness has many psychological, relational, and physical benefits. Individuals, who engage in gratitude practices, are more likely to have ‘positive’ emotions, such as joy, happiness, optimism, which can help to buffer lower moods. When we experience anxiety and depression, we can get caught up in unhelpful narratives, causing us to see ourselves, others, and the world through an overly negative lens. Gratitude can help us to focus on the present moment and pleasures, so we can more actively engage in life. It can be hard to notice the good things going on around us if we don’t pay attention to them. This can purposefully help us to see the blessings we have received from others.
In addition, it has been found that gratitude can help us to have stronger relationships because we can acknowledge the impact others have made in our lives. We can have greater appreciation for friends, family, teachers, strangers, etc., who look out for us and see the value in us. This may also allow us to see ourselves differently in regards to our own self-value. Additionally, the connection we can experience through gratitude can allow us to have more empathy, compassion, and forgiveness for others while feeling less isolated (Emmons, 2010).
Lastly, gratitude has many physical health benefits. It has been found that people, who have an ongoing gratitude practice, are more likely to have quality sleep, including more hours of sleep and feeling rejuvenated by sleep (Emmons, 2010). Other health benefits include stronger immune functioning, reduced physical pain, lower blood pressure, and healthier lifestyle habits overall (Allen, 2018).
How to Practice Gratitude
The G.L.A.D. technique is a way to practice gratitude and can be used as a form of journaling. This practice is meant to help us pay attention to certain aspects of our life we are grateful for that we may take for granted and/or go unnoticed. You can try this technique anytime, such as when you wake up, during your lunch break, or before bed. As an added bonus, you can share a part of your G.L.A.D. practice with someone you feel grateful towards.
Start by reflecting on one thing you are grateful for today
This can be gratitude for our physical and/or safety needs, such as having a meal, shelter, work, good health, etc.
We can be grateful for higher-level needs like having meaningful relationships, supportive community, etc.
Consider one thing you learned today
This can be a fun fact or gaining a new perspective
You may have learned something new about someone or yourself
We can adopt the mindfulness practice of having a beginner’s mind when we have the belief new possibilities exist
Notice one small or big accomplishment you had today
When we are overwhelmed, stressed, and/or having a difficult time, ordinary acts of self-care can be daunting, so it is important to give ourselves recognition and validation for our accomplishment(s)
This can be recognizing when we got out of bed this morning, not skipping a meal, and/or doing anything that brought us slightly closer to our life goals
Finish this practice by recalling a moment that delighted you today
This can be something that made you laugh, brought a smile to your face, and/or feel a sense of joy
Perhaps, you heard a funny joke, tasted something yummy, noticed beauty in nature, or exchanged smiles with someone
Practicing gratitude is an important coping skill and life perspective; it helps to strengthen connections and emotions essential for our survival. Feelings of gratitude help us to remember we are not alone and are cared for. With ongoing gratitude practice, we can become more active participants in our lives, especially as we deal with life’s adversities.
If you are interested in learning more about increasing coping skills like gratitude, you can reach out to us here.
Stay tuned. Our next topic is "Struggle Speaking in Certain Settings? Maybe It is Selective Mutism."
Allen, S. (2018). Is Gratitude Good for Your Health? Greater Good Magazine
Emmons, R. (2010). What Gratitude is Good. Greater Good Magazine
Harris, R. (2017). The Happiness Trap: Evolution of the Human Mind
Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.
Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.