After practicing psychotherapy for 20-plus years, it is clear to me that people who feel gratitude have better lives than those who dwell on their disappointments. And people with the best lives -- and the least regrets -- not only feel grateful, but express their gratitude to those individuals to whom they are thankful.
In fact, it is impossible to feel grateful and bitter at the same moment. It is also impossible to express sincere heartfelt gratitude to another person and not feel like a good person yourself, because it causes you to feel like a giver rather than a taker.
It's never too early in life to feel and express gratitude. Here are four tips to make it happen:
1. Practice daily acts of gratitude
When we talk about distressing and depressing events, our moods become gloomy. Alternatively, when we recall wonderful and happy moments, we feel bolstered and uplifted.
Every day, pause and list three things for which you are thankful and three people to whom you are grateful. If you're having difficulty with this, do it indirectly by identifying three things that could be worse about your life.
2. Look at your present through the eyes of your future
Several years ago, a woman walked into my office hunched over and using a cane. She looked like the witch in Snow White, except for the radiant grin on her face. I asked her why she was smiling so glowingly when it was obvious that she had nearly crippling arthritis. She looked at me and replied, "I was just thinking how great this cane will look in two years when I am using a walker."
3. Be happy in spite of unhappy events
When we're young and emotionally immature, we're happy because of what goes right. When we grow older and more mature, we can learn to be happy in spite of what goes wrong.
There are two steps to accomplishing this. First, after someone upsets you, don't say or do anything to make the situation worse. Then, as soon as that irresistible impulse to shoot from your hip (and shoot yourself in the foot) lessens, start listing to yourself the things about the situation for which you can feel grateful.
4. Try a power thank you
Unexpressed gratitude is a terrible thing to waste. If you are feeling grateful to someone, give them a "Power Thank You" to make their life a little better.
First, thank them specifically for something they did. Next, recognize and acknowledge the effort it took for them to do it. Finally, tell them what their actions mean to you personally. This will help others feel valued and appreciated instead of taken for granted, and will help you feel better about yourself and your life.
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