Image: Kari Perrin

The Covid-19 pandemic may have made it difficult to feel grateful, especially when we couldn't gather during the holidays last year in the ways we'd hoped. But a Thanksgiving feast is not the only time to reflect on the good. In fact, practicing gratitude all year round is a great way to improve your mood, reduce anxiety and improve your overall state of wellbeing.

Gratitude is found through two key components, according to University of California psychology and gratitude researcher Robert Emmons: affirming the good things we've received, and acknowledging the role other people play in providing our lives with goodness.

Sarasota licensed school psychologist Tara Motzenbecker, from Parent and Child Psychological Services shares some tips on how to practice gratitude the entire month.

What are the benefits of practicing gratitude? 

"There are emotional benefits. People who have negative thoughts all day have a very strong 'negativity muscle' in their brains. The strongest muscles get used more," says Motzenbecker. "Intentionally practicing gratitude is exercise for your 'positivity muscle,' which leads you to begin automatically thinking more positively.

The benefits attached to finding the good things in life are improved relationships and self-esteem, improved decision making, strengthened immune system, improved sleep patterns and finding more joy and pleasure in everyday activities.

How can you practice gratitude?

Say three things you are grateful for out loud. "This feels more realistic and attainable to many people," says Motzenbecker. "Saying three things they're thankful for can help in moments of stress or anxiety." Try doing this when you wake up in the morning or before you fall asleep at night.

Keep a journal. Motzenbecker says there are researched benefits to writing in a gratitude-themed journal for five minutes a day. It can be as simple as writing a list or more complex, like a long journal entry about specific things you are thankful for in life.

Try meditation—involve your senses. "Look for guided meditations that focus on gratitude," says Motzenbecker. "This can lead to you be able to do it on your own eventually." Motzenbecker also suggests occasionally focusing your gratitude on your senses, like smell and sight. ("I am thankful that this coffee tastes so strong today. I am grateful for this wonderful smelling tree I pass on my way into the office every day.")

Share gratitude with others. "Instead of just saying thanks to someone, be specific," says Motzenbecker. "Tell people when they've been helpful to you or why you appreciate them." Letting them know will not only make them feel good but you, too.

Remember how far you've come. Surviving the past year-plus of a pandemic has not been easy. We must acknowledge the hard times we've gone through to appreciate the growth we've made. One way Motzenbecker recommends practicing this is called "3:1." For every one negative thought you have about yourself, others or life in general, stop and intentionally think of three positive things. This will help redirect your thought patterns.

For more resources and information on Parent and Child Psychological Services, click here or call (941) 357-4090.

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