Depending on when you are reading this, Thanksgiving is either at our door or has recently whisked past - a time when we are all supposed to count our blessings, get along with our relatives, and bask in gratitude.🦃
But you know as well as I do that isn't how it typically goes down. Reality is us standing in long lines at the grocery store, then cooking a giant feast, all the while trying to stay away from hot button topics so we can just 'get along' with our relatives, feeling exhausted, and then getting up (for many of us) to see a bunch of pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, or various other itis-es the next day.
Who the hell would be grateful for that? 🤬
All that aside, I still felt that in the spirit of the season, this is an excellent time to share some real talk about how gratitude is actually an incredibly powerful tool that you can use to reframe your day, shift your mindset, and dare-I-say bring some happiness and peace in your life.
No....really. I'm not blowing smoke up your 🍑. Stay with me on this. I'll share some science, some real-life tips on how to use gratitude and how NOT to use gratitude, and then issue you a challenge so you can start your own powerful transformation.
Let's doooo eeeet. 💪🏻
Gratitude is the Gateway Drug to Health and Happiness
You've probably already seen studies (check out this paper from Berkeley) that show that gratitude has many benefits including:
I mean...what's not to love? Even if you really love focusing on and talking about what is wrong with the world, we have to know that isn't the pathway to peace and fulfillment (which you deserve). So let's talk about how to use this super power.
How to Develop and Use Gratitude
If you have been in the habit of focusing on what you don't want or what makes you pissed off, then it might take a bit for you to retrain your brain and develop new patterns. 🧠
And yes...that means some self discipline and consciously interrupting your old patterns of complaining or venting.
And yes, I can feel the resistance rising up in you as you read this sentence and the reasons why you can't or won't or shouldn't...but REMEMBER that YOU are the captain of your ship, and your happiness, health, and life satisfaction are YOUR responsibility, and most importantly, you are worth the effort. 💯
Gratitude works best if it is practiced daily. Many people find that by developing small, daily rituals they can develop a grateful mindset. These can look like:
thinking about 5 things you are grateful about as soon as you wake up
filling out a gratitude journal every night with a few sentences about what you were grateful for that day
catching yourself when you are starting to gripe about something, and consciously reframing the situation. For example: Instead of saying 'I'm so tired of cleaning the kitchen' say 'I'm so grateful to have food, running water, dishes, etc. and I'm grateful for the people in my life that also have these things.' Cheesy...but effective reframing will change your whole perspective.
The key is daily practice. Just like you must exercise a muscle or it atrophies, so it goes for gratitude.
Next Level Gratitude Practices
Finding joy in the small things. I find that I can generate a grateful mindset by simply saying to myself 'thank you thank you thank you' to things that I would otherwise take for granted:
When I wake up and see the sun rising
When I turn on the faucet and hot water comes out of the faucet
When the boiler turns on and heats my home
When I see the abundance of fruits and vegetables in the grocery store
When I turn the car on and it starts
When my family arrives home safely at the end of the day
When I hear my daughter singing
When I hear a child laughing
When expected or unexpected money shows up in my account
Used consistently, this practice can cause an EXPLOSION of gratitude in your heart, and you might find your eyes leaking with joy from the simplest of things. The key is to consistently turn your attention away from what scares you or pisses you off and instead, focus your energy and consciousness on something simple that brings you joy.
Being proactive. I often use gratitude mantras to positively impact my perception of scary, difficult, or otherwise yucky situations. The key is using these BEFORE you are in the situation or BEFORE you slide into the negative. Here are a few I use:
I'm so happy and grateful that this situation is already handled and positively benefits me and others.
I'm so happy and grateful that everything is always working out for my highest good.
I'm so happy and grateful that I always have everything I need.
Surprisingly, I find that the situations I would have otherwise freaked out about always resolve themselves, and I stop wasting my precious energy on worry or feeling frustrated, and instead, use it for the greater good of myself and others.
How NOT to Use Gratitude
Funny enough, there are toxic ways to use the gift of gratitude that I recommend NOT engaging in. Here are three big ones:
🚫 Don't use gratitude to manipulate others. Don't use gratitude to invalidate your emotions or feel superior to others. I grew up hearing the phrase 'you should feel grateful for your food - there are children starving in Africa!' When you use gratitude to compare yourself to the circumstances of another, you risk engaging in superiority and/or invalidating your experience. It's not about who has it better or worse, it about finding what you have available to you in the here and now that you can feel grateful for. Don't say 'I'm grateful because others have it worse'. Instead, say, 'I'm very grateful for __________.'
🚫 Don't use gratitude to gaslight yourself or others. You can have both a sense of gratitude AND feelings of sadness or stress at the same time. Gratitude becomes weaponized when it is used to dismiss your lived experienced. If you are having negative emotions, experience, validate, and process those before you practice gratitude. Every emotion is important, even the negative ones. If you don't process them or ignore them (hello toxic positivity!), they'll get stuck. If your not sure how to do this, it REALLY helps to work with a therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.
🚫 Don't use gratitude to continue to endure toxic life situations. Our species has multiple unhealthy systemic problems that often overlap and need to change for the better. If you are in a bad situation personally or professionally, please don't continue to endure it and try to use gratitude to 'make the best of it'. Instead, take action to improve your life situation and use gratitude along the way as an 'adjunct therapy' to stay positively focused.
🚫 Don't use gratitude to manipulate others. 'You should feel grateful for what you have' is a good example of how NOT to use gratitude. Gratitude is a deeply personal experience - we can't and shouldn't use it to manipulates the feelings or behaviors of other humans. Stay in your own lane.
Action Step and Challenge
We here at Vets Against Insanity know that knowledge without action is useless. If you would like to increase your feelings of gratitude and consequently all the good stuff that come with that emotion, then you need to take action. Remember - you are your most important asset, so invest your energy accordingly.
What is one action step you can take away from this post that you can implement in your daily life?
What does that look like?
Do you have somebody in your life that can help you be accountable to practicing this action step daily?
I challenge you to practice your action step daily for 1 month, and see what changes happen in your world.
If you are so inclined, please share your action step in the comment sections, or any other thoughts you have because we would love to hear from you, and you never know how you can help others with what you share. ❤️
From our slightly scandalous hearts to yours….
Sarah J. Wooten, DVM, CVJ (and the CON crew)