The Benefits of Cultivating Gratitude for Stress Relief

Do you know people who seem to be able to maintain a relatively positive attitude regardless of what’s happening around them? Like everyone, they appreciate the good times, but they also seem to be able to focus on the positive during the bad times. They see the good in difficult people, they see opportunity in a challenging situation and they appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss.

Would you like to increase your ability to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of significant stress?

Smiling Lady

A positive attitude can be cultivated with a little practice. Although we are born with specific temperamental tendencies, the brain is a muscle and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.

While several factors go into emotional resilience and optimism, studies show that cultivating a sense of gratitude can help you maintain a more positive mood, contribute to greater emotional well-being and also foster social benefits. Cultivating gratitude is one of the simpler routes to a greater sense of emotional well-being, higher overall life satisfaction and a greater sense of happiness. People with a greater level of gratitude tend to have stronger relationships in that they appreciate their loved ones more, and their loved ones, feeling that appreciation, tend to do more to earn it. And because those who are happier, sleep better and enjoy healthy relationships, grateful people tend to be healthier people.

Fortunately, there are several ways to cultivate gratitude. For the next few weeks, try some of the following exercises. You should notice a significant increase in your feelings of gratitude — you will likely notice more positive things in your life, less dwelling on negative or stressful events, less feelings of ‘lacking’ and a greater sense of appreciation for the people and things in your life.

Make Gentle Reminders

When you notice yourself grumbling about a negative event or stressor in your life, try to think of four or five related things for which you are grateful. For example, when feeling stressed at work try to think about several things you like about your job. You can do the same with relationship stress, financial stress or other daily hassles. The more you gently remind yourself of the positives, the more easily a shift toward gratitude can occur.

Be Careful With Comparisons

Many people cause themselves unnecessary stress by making comparisons. More specifically, they cause themselves stress by making the wrong comparisons. They compare themselves only to those who have more, do more or are in some way closer to their ideals and allow themselves to feel inferior instead of inspired. When cultivating gratitude, you have two options if you find yourself making such comparisons — you can either choose to compare yourself to people who have less than you (which reminds you how truly rich and lucky you are) or you can feel gratitude for having people in your life who can inspire you. Either road can lead you away from stress and envy and closer to feelings of gratitude.  

Keep a Gratitude Journal

One of the best ways to cultivate gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Not only are you combining the benefits of journaling with the active adoption of a more positive mindset, you are left with a nice catalog of happy memories and a long list of things in your life for which you are grateful. Gratitude journals can be wonderful to read during times when it’s more difficult to remember what these things are. 

Because habits are usually formed within two or three weeks, you will have to actively focus on maintaining gratitude less and less as you go, and the habit of a more positive and less stress-inducing attitude will become more automatic. Greater feelings of emotional well-being can be yours.

Elizabeth Scott, MS