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How to practice gratitude when you’re feeling unhappy? When you are depressed or particularly pessimistic about your life, it’s especially difficult to think positive thoughts and practice gratitude. Here’s an exercise that works well for me:

  1. Reflect on past struggles and how you overcame them. Make the connection that you have been through difficult times and you are capable and successful. Appreciate where you are now, how far you have come, and how you will push through again.

  2. For every negative thought you have, counter it with a positive thought.

  3. Recognize any improved attitude and mental readiness to see things in a more positive light.

Example: Negative thought:

I’m overweight and a failure. Accompanying positive thought:

I am alive and loved. I have a reason and the ability to achieve my goal of becoming healthier. Resulting new attitude:

I’m going to commit to going for a walk every evening for the next week. This is also a great opportunity to give the dog some much needed exercise and attention.

How to keep a gratitude journal Using a gratitude journal has experimentally demonstrated to increase levels of reported happiness across multiple psychology studies, in as little as 3-4 weeks. The practice is simple:

  1. Keep a journal by your bed

  2. Every night, write 3 things you are grateful for

  3. Pick one of these things and expand further on why you feel grateful.

If this feels forced or you don’t typically journal:

  • Once or twice a week, write down 5 things you are grateful for.

  • Take the time to savor each one of these entries as a gift that you have been given and appreciate that you have these things to be grateful for.

Additional tips:

  • If you have extra time, list something that went well today and why it went well.

  • A focus on the people in your life, rather than material things, has been shown to be more effective.

  • Try to focus on what your life would be like without the things you are grateful for. This helps shift the focus to appreciation and increased gratitude.

Recap If you find yourself in a pessimistic funk that you just can’t seem to break free from, try adding a little gratitude to your life. You can start small. Take a moment to appreciate your morning coffee or that little break in chaos during your busy day. As you begin to acknowledge the little things that you are grateful for, you will become more in tune and more easily recognize the bigger things. It may seem counterintuitive. It may even feel awkward and forced. But the simple act of inviting gratitude into your life will start the cascade of emotions and actions which will invite happiness and success back in. Just remember the formula: GRATITUDE - HAPPINESS - GOAL SETTING - SUCCESS!

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