“Count your blessings” is a term that has been said so often that it is now a cliché. There have been times in the past, when I have been down in the dumps about something, and a well-meaning friend has said something to that effect, to my not-so-willing ears. In fact, just yesterday, after expressing concern and empathy in response to a friend who was talking about a series of worries he had, I said something like, “You know you also have a lot to be grateful for, right?”
The love/hate relationship with gratitude is an interesting one. On one hand, when we’re feeling good, you would think it would be easy to appreciate what is going right in our lives. And, to some extent it is, although due to a phenomenon known as adaptation, that gratitude doesn’t always last. For example, in a classic study, it was found that although initially lottery winners experienced a great deal of pleasure in response to their windfalls (who wouldn’t?), a few months later they adjusted to their new normal, and returned to their baseline level of happiness. I can relate to this one – when I got my last bonus at work, I was positively giddy – grinning from ear to ear (in the privacy of my closed office, of course), singing exuberantly at the top of my lungs in the car on the way home, and dancing wildly in my living room. But a week later, it was almost as if nothing had happened.
It’s even more dicey when we feel that things are not going right in our lives. That same job that could, at times, cause me a great deal of pleasure, eventually led to me feeling burnt out. And, when I was talking about these feelings to a friend and he started pointing out some of the positives in my life, I simply did not want to hear it. At least for that day, I wanted to wallow in self-pity, cry, and feel hopeless.
There are a lot of reasons why it can be difficult to entertain positive thinking while we’re going through a tough spot, psychological research suggests that it is one of the most important things we can do to make ourselves feel better. Having a spirit of gratitude is associated with greater happiness. In fact, in a study of depressed patients, they were asked to systematically keeping track of the things for which they were grateful. The results of this exercise were as effective as antidepressants in decreasing their symptoms!
And in reality, there is always something to be grateful for. For example, even when I was feeling burned out from too much travel or lots of work demands, I was thankful for the fact that I had a steady income and clients willing to hire me. I was grateful that although I was fatigued, I was healthy. I was grateful that I have supportive people to whom I could talk about how I was feeling. And, I was grateful to know about the importance of gratitude for making me feel better!
I encourage you to count your blessings even when (ESPECIALLY when) you don’t particularly feel like it. Get yourself a journal and every day, think of three things for which you are grateful. They could be big (“My dad’s cancer was healed”) or relatively small (“Someone gave me a coupon for a free smoothie”). Make sure to write them down – that heightens the effect. And, if you’re so inclined, write down why you think those events happened (“My Dad’s cancer was healed because he’s a warrior” or “My Dad’s cancer was healed because God is good.”) You might even want to share your thoughts with a friend or significant other, to further enhance the effects.
So, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. You’ll be happier for it!