Friday, December 16, 2011


The holidays can be a stressful time and it’s easy to find things to complain about. But this is also a wonderful time to practice gratitude. Rather than getting upset when dealing with people who aggravate us, we can use this opportunity to look for the good qualities in people (and tell them). If someone gives us a gift we don’t like, we can remember that giving is about the gesture and be thankful someone took the time to consider us.

Here is a study showing that expressing gratitude increased one’s perception of communal strength in a relationship as compared to just generating positive thoughts.

This series of studies found that demonstrating gratitude was related to fewer depressive symptoms.

This study showed that “positive emotions experienced in the wake of the attacks--gratitude, interest, love, and so forth--fully accounted for the relations between (a) precrisis resilience and later development of depressive symptoms and (b) precrisis resilience and postcrisis growth in psychological resources.”

How to practice gratitude:

Set aside a few minutes each day, maybe first thing in the morning and/or just before bed, to reflect on any positive events that occurred during the day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small event or a big one, the point is to look for all the good things that happen every day (even on a bad day). Not only does this help us be more gracious, warm people, but it also reminds us that when everything seems to be going wrong, we can still find things that we were grateful for.

Similar to above, keep a gratitude journal. At the end of the day, write down at least three things you were grateful for. (If you're a geek, use the digits of pi as a guideline for how many things to record, e.g. since pi=3.14, on the first day record three positive things, on the second day 1 thing, on the third day four things, and so on).

Say thank you when someone does something nice for you. And mean it. Similarly, you can also write thank you notes or letters to people who have done something you have appreciated in the past.

Find joy in the small things.

Keep a physical object that helps you remember gratitude.

Check out this site to see what other people are grateful for (and maybe post your own thanks).

Challenge yourself to go a week (or two or three) without complaining or criticising yourself or others.

Look for the good in the seemingly bad. Here is a gratitude poem that may help:

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.


  1. I really love the idea of reflecting on the day and thinking of all the things we are thankful for. I also like the notion of not being so critical and complaining about things. I find when I experience the world I rarely view it through critical eyes meaning that I'm generally satisfied and agreeable in my day to day. I see friends, I always enjoy myself no matter what we do... I'm happy just to be with them and don't pick holes in our activity of choice. I eat out at a restaurant, the food is generally always super delicious. The critical thoughts don't come naturally, or even comfortably. I find people perceive someone who is nearly always content with things, accepts their experiences dealt as being what they are, as being dishonest by omission or as less intellectual somehow. This is more an observation, as opposed to an opinion... I'm curious your thoughts on it.

  2. I’ve certainly had similar observations. I think this tendency of others to react cynically or judgmentally is not derived from an intention of being unkind; rather, I think that because of a person’s individual negative life experiences, combined with us living in a culture where people often bond over complaining, it is difficult for them to understand such an opposite reaction. Thought patterns become habitual and when someone has experienced a lifetime of a certain way of processing and are then confronted with a challenging and opposing way of thinking, the brain responds defensively. (This is why when practicing new cognitive or behavioural skills it is important to practice them regularly, even when feeling well, because we are teaching are brains a new way of thinking and that requires time and repetition). For people with depression, a negative perception of the world is exceptionally challenging to overcome.

    There is a woman I know who is a yoga teacher and has a very positive attitude. There had been a death in her circle of friends and while she was trying to console one of her friends in her usual manner of trying to remain positive, the friend reacted negatively to this. Of course, grief is a different situation and everyone deals with their grief differently. But when I see someone complaining, or reacting negatively to a positive influence, I try to imagine what ‘grief’ they may be experiencing (dissatisfaction with their job, relationship troubles…) and empathise with that. While we may not be able to change the way people perceive their world and react to it (at least not immediately), we can demonstrate a different process. At the very least, a response of empathy will allow for the opportunity to create a positive experience out of a negative one, even if only for our own immediate benefit.

    I’ve brought up a lot of different topics in this response without delving into too much detail with any one. Hopefully, it pieces together in an understandable way.