• Melissa Smith

The Power of Gratitude: How to Be Thankful No Matter What Life Throws Your Way




Today we live in a busy and chaotic society. We often over schedule our days with work, meetings, commutes, to-do lists, chores, and other responsibilities while we under schedule the people and activities that actually bring our lives real joy.


We wake up and start our days by looking at our cell phones and calendars and get an automatic sense of anxiety with all the activities we have to do in our day. When we turn on the news, we are immediately filled with negativity ranging from crime, unrest, and politics. After a while, the monotonous list of activities and the negative reports can become mind-numbing and create a sense of negativity within us.


There seems to be no real joy, everything is a chore, pleasure seems elusive.

Do you ever ask yourself if there's more to life than constantly being on the go, working, responsibilities, and negativity?



The harmful effects of negative thinking


All this negative energy coming our way and how we start to interpret the world can actually create mental and physical health issues disrupting our emotional state. This is clear by the high levels of anxiety and depression in the United States.


The Anxiety and Depression Association of America published these facts about anxiety and depression on their website.


  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.

  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.

  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.

  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

  • In 2014, around 15.7 million adults age 18 or older in the U.S. had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year (6.7% of adults in the U.S.).* (National Institute of Mental Health)

Results from the eye-opening U.K. study, the largest of its kind, indicated that it isn't just what happens to us that matters, but how we think about it that shapes our psychological well-being. Lisa Fireston Ph.D.


How can we mitigate the effects of negativity in our lives and start to create more positive experiences?



The power of gratitude



There's great power in the lives of those that feel and express gratitude on a regular basis. Research shows that people that express their gratitude in the form of a gratitude journal or gratitude letters often experience psychological and physical benefits which include


Psychological benefits

  • Higher life satisfaction

  • Positive mood

  • Lower levels of anxiety

  • Lower levels of depression

  • Higher levels of emotional well-being

  • Lower levels of burn out

  • Lower levels of materialism


Physical benefits

  • Lower incidents of inflammatory-related diseases such as cancer and heart disease

  • Increased immune function

  • Less pain

  • Higher quality of sleep

  • Lower blood pressure


Further research shows that expressing gratitude can actually change the chemicals in the brain and is a natural antidepressant.


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.



How to live in true gratitude


We can change the effects of negativity by taking concrete actions to cut out the negative sources in our lives, reframing our negative thoughts, and expressing gratitude for what we have.


We all have them. Those people in our lives that challenge you to keep that smile on your face that you had when you walked into the room. Those people that do not bring the sunshine with them when they enter the room but instead a dark and heavy cloud. The people that are negative and cynical and have nothing positive to say. We also can turn the TV on and get a large dose of negative reports about crime, political fighting and social events that leave us feeling depressed, anxious and negative.



The best way to cut the negativity is to be selective about who or what comes into your home and into your mind. Here are some ways to reduce or cut the negativity you and your family are exposed to.


  • Reduce social media or block those people that post the divisive or negative posts

  • Eliminate social media altogether. There's such freedom to not being on social media and having to know what everyone is doing all the time.

  • Be choosy when watching television. Find shows that uplift you and make you feel positive and inspired.

  • Cut out watching news reports. The news today repeats the exact same report all throughout the day. Hearing the same report can create anxiety and a sense of fear.

  • Cut out news notifications on your phone. If the zombie apocalypse happens someone will call you or the emergency broadcast will go off but being bombarded with news reports can have the same effect as watching the news.

  • Eliminate or reduce the negative people in your life. I know this is a hard one, but if you can not cut someone out of your life then reduce your time around them. You will be much happier for it.


Expressing a grateful heart also means controlling not only what comes into your home but what comes into your mind. What comes into your mind can steal your true joy and happiness and destroy your self-esteem. Therapists help clients everyday battle what we call ANTs


ANTs stands for


A = automatic

N = negative

T = thoughts


Those are the thoughts that come into your mind automatically without consciously thinking about it. We can control them, and we can reframe those thoughts and gain control of our lives.

What is reframing your thoughts? This is where you take a negative thought that runs into your mind and you change it into a positive and uplifting statement.


For example, you are running 10 minutes late for work in the morning. You already feel rushed, stressed, and frazzled when you get on the expressway and soon find yourself stuck in a standstill of traffic. Your first automatic negative thought is "this is the worst day already". Re-framing that thought into positive thoughts and ones that express gratitude would look like "I have no control over the situation but this is a perfect time to start that audiobook I wanted to listen to" or "this is the perfect time to catch up on phone calls to my family I have been putting off".


The best way to counteract an ANT is to immediately stop the negative thought and counteract it with 2 reasons why you are grateful at that moment. By consciously taking control of your unconscious thoughts we can begin to eliminate the negative thoughts altogether. Starting off controlling the small daily thoughts you have will help you be more resilient when a major life event happens. This takes time, patience, and practice but your life will change drastically once you change your outlook on life.


Once you reduce the negative influences coming into your home and into your head it is time to look around and see what you have to be grateful for. The best way to do this is to write a gratitude journal or a positive journal. Research shows that the act of daily journaling helps to boost self-esteem, mood, and quality of life. This is a great activity to do as a family or as a means to self-care and reflection.


If journaling is not your thing, then another fun family activity to do is a gratitude jar. This can make expressing gratitude fun and exciting for kids and parents as they watch the jar fill throughout the week. As an added incentive, once the jar is full you can take your family out to celebrate all the things in life you are grateful for.



Once we change the effects of negativity by cutting out the negative sources in our lives, reframing our ANTs, and expressing gratitude for what we have, there're

no limits to the joy you will feel in your life.


Have a blessed and balanced day!

~ Melissa



Melissa Smith is an LMFT in the state of Kentucky.

Live. Life. Balanced.Today is a blog written by licensed marriage and family therapist.

For more information about counseling go to www.LifeInMotionKentucky.com







References


  1. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0076564

  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201408/how-negative-thoughts-are-ruining-your-life

  3. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

  4. https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf?_ga=2.194753005.1177254988.1572984352-1077753093.1572984352

  5. https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/

  6. https://www.therapistaid.com/

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