Increasingly our society has become focused on things, what we have and what we don’t have. Studies have shown that this leaves even the wealthiest people feeling incomplete and unhappy. So this Valentine’s Day why not start a practice that will expand your heart and help you focus on what matters?
Gratitude practice is just like it sounds, spending a few moments each day paying attention to what you are grateful for. Research shows that even a small amount of gratitude each day can increase happiness and beget even more gratitude. Why is this relevant to therapy? Because depression patterns are forged in the brain through repetition. If that is true, then wouldn’t it also be true of gratitude? It’s pretty hard to be depressed when you are focused on truly being grateful.
Some easy ways to build a gratitude practice
- Family Gratitude Practice: each night at dinner do a quick check in, asking each member what they are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be something that happened that day (or something that happened at all.)
- Gratitude Meditations: You can find a great gratitude meditation on the app Stop, Breathe, and Think or on Berkely’s Greater Good in Action
- Gratitude Journal: write daily, or as often as feels good. Now you have something you can go back to when you need gratitude reminders. This can also be done with the family, using photos, colored pictures, and collages for smaller kids!
It is easy to think material things when we think gratitude, but try and stretch your heart and mind. Think about health (family being healthy, no one getting the flu this terrible season), unique talents or abilities (artistry, yoga, athletics), opportunities (promotion at work, chance to see a friend from out of town), needs being met (including shelter and food), experiences (travel, seeing a show, hearing a great sermon ), special moments (baby’s first steps, anniversaries, milestones), and more.
To really stretch your heart, try something that you may have been thinking negatively about. For me, this came in the form of my house, it’s tiny and often messy due to my two little ones. I often found myself lamenting over and over, “if only it were bigger!” And thus, my house became a source of disappointment and anxiety. I spent some time focusing on gratitude that I have shelter for my family, that we own this house and won’t be forced to leave when a lease ends, that we’ve been able to make it our own. I even found myself expressing gratitude that my kids are so close to me when we sleep, it gives me a sense of security. Soon, this teeny tiny house turned from a source of lament to a source of joy. So this Valentine’s Day, lay off the chocolates and show the world your gratitude!
Abby Withee is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in Rolling Hills Estates and Redondo Beach. With a focus on mindful practices, Abby works with children, adolescents, adults, and families to address a variety of diagnoses and presenting issues. For more mindfulness and gratitude resources, check out her blog on beginning mindfulness!