Written by : Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D. 

Power up Your Thankfulness

Imagine something with me for a moment. Think of someone important in your life (e.g., your best friend; your spouse), or think of something you are proud of (e.g., your good health; a recent award you received). After you have this clearly in your mind, consider this: imagine you no longer have that person or positive experience in your life. How would you feel? What would your life be like without that person or that achievement? Sit with this experience for a moment (it will be worth it to you).

I’ve led this activity for thousands of people over the years. It is called mental subtraction. While researchers show this activity boosts well-being, what my participants say is they feel strong gratitude for what they had imagined losing. They can feel the gratitude deep in their bones and in a warming of their heart. They begin having thoughts of gratitude, such as, “I really appreciate my spouse and having them around,” or “I guess that award I received really meant a lot to me, it represented so much hard work,” or “I’m happy to have my health back and to be alive to spend time with my grandkids.”

Boosting your gratitude is like taking a happiness pill.

Out of all the primary ways to boost happiness or well-being, gratitude is linked most strongly with the “meaning” pathway. Gratitude acts like a fuel that propels your sense of meaning in life to new heights. Research studies also show that gratitude brings multiple benefits including greater physical and mental health, and higher work satisfaction and achievement.

Out of all your character strengths, gratitude is one of the easiest and straightforward to use. It’s as simple as saying “thank you.” But, I encourage you to take your gratitude to the next level. Here are a couple ways:

1. Whenever you say thank you to someone, never leave it with only two words. Explain your gratitude. Why are you grateful to them? Offer them a rationale for how they impacted you.

2. When you count your blessings and recall what you are grateful for at the end of the day, be sure to come up with new examples each evening. And, get into the tiny moments you are grateful for. Rather than simply observing you’re grateful for your kids and your health, notice the moment of gratitude you felt when someone let you into their lane while driving to work. Notice the tinge of gratitude you felt when someone pulled you out of your distractedness with their smile. Notice the feeling of vigor and gratitude when you looked outside and saw the greenness of the trees making contact with the deep blueness of the sky.
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