Caring for yourself
How To Practice Gratitude & Spread it to Others
During hard times, practicing gratitude may not feel natural or intuitive, but it can make a difference.
During hard times, people often hear suggestions to look on the bright side, like:
- “You should feel grateful for the time you had. At least they’re no longer suffering,”
- “You should be glad you’re not in that situation anymore,”
- “Appreciate what you’ve got. After all, some people have it even worse.”
Although these suggestions are often well-meant, pressure to be positive about painful things tends to be upsetting, not helpful.
However, research also backs the benefits of taking the time to notice the bright spots in our lives. Practicing gratitude isn’t about denying pain or pretending things are great. You can acknowledge that some things are really hard, while also being thankful for the good moments and great people in your life.
- Tip #1Reflect on what you’re grateful for
Practicing gratitude may not feel natural or intuitive at first, but it’s worth the effort; research shows that it can increase your happiness.1 In one study, psychologists asked a group of people to make a weekly list of ﬁve things they were grateful for. Another group wrote about hassles and a third listed ordinary events. Nine weeks later, the gratitude group felt signiﬁcantly happier.2
Practicing gratitude may also improve your health. Studies show that reflecting on things you’re grateful for can improve your sleep and strengthen your immune system.3
- How to do it
Try building a habit of reflecting on what you’re thankful for. They can be big or small, special or mundane. They may be something tied to your hardship, like getting closer to a friend you’re confiding in, or something totally unrelated, like a TV show that brings you laughter.
You might cultivate gratitude by:
- Setting aside time each week to list what you’re grateful for. Use whatever format works for you, whether that is journaling or a voice memo on your phone.
- Sharing something you’re grateful for each day over dinner with a loved one or email with a friend who lives far away.
- Reflecting on a person you appreciate having in your life as you brush your teeth in the morning or before you go to sleep at night.
- Tip #2Express your gratitude
Expressing gratitude can also have a positive impact on your life and the lives of those around you. In one study, people wrote and delivered a thank-you note to someone who had shown them unusual kindness. Not only did the note writers feel happier right away, the mood boost lasted for weeks.4
- How to do it
Set time aside to show how much you appreciate someone, whether that’s because they did you a big favor or because they make you laugh. If you’re feeling grateful for something long past, share that too—it’s never too late to let someone know that their actions mattered.
Expressing gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated or use flowery language.
- If a loved one texts to see how you’re holding up, say, “Thanks for checking in. I love seeing your name pop up and knowing I’ve got your support.”
- If a friend helped you through a rough patch last year, say, “Can I make you dinner? You were so supportive when I was going through everything. I didn’t have the energy then to tell you how much it meant, but you really made a difference.”
Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of your situation. Feelings of gratitude can coexist with pain, anger, regret, shame, jealousy, or sadness. If there are some days when you don’t feel up to looking for bright spots, that’s okay. You can always try again tomorrow. Over time, practicing gratitude can become one of many habits that helps you get through your hardest times.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 1 of 10
Slow down and feel your feelings: Lean into the Suck
- None of us want to be sad, angry, or scared. But research shows that letting yourself fully experience your emotions can help you start to heal.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 2 of 10
Focus On The Basics: Breathe, Eat, Sleep, Move
- During life’s hardest moments, it’s critical to focus on the self-care basics: sleeping, eating, breathing, and moving. Learn more today.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 3 of 10
It’s Not Your Fault & It Won’t Always Feel Like This
- During difficult times, it’s easy to fall into mental traps, such as the “3 P’s.” Remember that it’s not your fault, & this feeling won’t last forever. Learn more.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 4 of 10
How To Be Practice Self-Compassion
- Self-compassion can help you get through hard times with less pain. Learn how to practice self-compassion & be kind to yourself.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 5 of 10
How To Ask For Help: Kick the Elephant out of the Room
- Don’t ignore the elephant in the room — kick it out. Learn how to open up, have difficult conversations & ask for the help you need.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 6 of 10
Avoid Avoidance & Accept Negative Emotions
- The battle to push bad feelings away will make your life smaller over time. Learn how to accept & embrace negative emotions during life’s hardest moments.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 8 of 10
How To Build Your Support System
- During hard times, everyone needs extra support. Learn how to build your support system of friends, family, & other loved ones.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 9 of 10
Struggle, Grief & Joy Can Co-Exist
- Positive & negative emotions don’t cancel each other out, & you don’t have to be done with pain to make space for joy. Learn how grief & joy can co-exist.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 10 of 10
Post-Traumatic Growth: Build a meaningful new normal
- Learn more about post-traumatic growth & creating a more meaningful life after hardship.
Supporting others: Lesson 1 of 4
Mobilize their Support Team: Find Support For Others
- In life’s hardest moments, people often need more support than any one person can give. Learn how to find & mobilize support for a loved one facing adversity.
Supporting others: Lesson 2 of 4
Show up and Support in Specific, Concrete Ways
- When someone is going through a hard time, even the smallest acts of support can be significant. Learn about specific, concrete ways you can support others.
Supporting others: Lesson 3 of 4
Help people cope: Be There for the Long Haul
- Grief and hardship can long outlast the initial waves of support. Show your loved ones that you’re there to provide long-term support.
Supporting others: Lesson 4 of 4
How to Talk about Stress, Trauma, & Loss
- Instead of avoiding hard topics, become part of a culture that avoids avoidance. Learn how to discuss stress, trauma, loss, & other hard topics with loved ones.
David R. Cregg and Jennifer S. Cheavens, “Gratitude Interventions: Effective Self-Help? A Meta-Analysis of the Impact on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety,” Journal of Happiness Studies 22, no. 1 (January 2021): 413–45; Don E. Davis, Elise Choe, Joel Meyers, et al., “Thankful for the Little Things: A Meta-Analysis of Gratitude Interventions,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 63, no. 1 (2016): 20–31.
Robert A. Emmonse and Michael E. Mccullough, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84, no. 2 (2003): 377–89.
Laura I. Hazlett, Mona Moieni, Michael R. Irwin, et al., “Exploring Neural Mechanisms of the Health Benefits of Gratitude in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (July 2021): 444–53; Marta Jackowska, Jennie Brown, Amy Ronaldson, and Andrew Steptoe, “The Impact of a Brief Gratitude Intervention on Subjective Well-Being, Biology and Sleep,” Journal of Health Psychology 21, no. 10 (March 2016): 2207–17.
Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park, and Christopher Peterson, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist 60, no. 5 (2005): 410–21.