By: Cheryl Maguire
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the word gratitude gets tossed around a lot. You see it on signs in stores or central themes in TV shows. Whenever I see a word used a lot, I like to look up the definition. This is what I found:
The quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful
Is gratitude an emotion or a behavior? Most research studies define gratitude as a feeling that something good happened to you and that someone or something (i.e. nature) was the reason for this experience. Research has also shown that gratitude is part of our evolutionary history. Some scientists believe that gratitude stems from “reciprocal altruism” which is when one animal helps another in hopes that the animal may repay the favor later.
The Greater Good Science Center states, “Some have even described gratitude as ‘social glue’ that fortifies relationships—between friends, family, and romantic partners—and serves as the backbone of human society.”
If gratitude is important for developing and maintaining relationships with other people, then it’s also important to figure out when you are not practicing gratitude effectively. These are some common mistakes people make in relation to gratitude:
Gratitude Statements That Are Too General
In order to feel as if something good has happened to you, if you make a general statement like, “I’m grateful for my family,” you will not truly feel gratitude. Instead, if you make a more specific statement like, “I’m grateful that my husband drove my daughter to dance class,” research shows that you will feel a greater life satisfaction. Also if you express this specific gratitude to the person, then they will likely be more willing to help you again and feel as if they were helpful.
Gratitude That Compares You To Others
When you compare yourself to others you can feel either jealous or inadequate. Also if you feel like you should feel grateful because someone has it worse than you that will only make you feel guilty for needing help. For example, if you are experiencing depression but live in a nice house and then see someone struggling with homelessness, you may think, “I shouldn’t feel depressed since I live in a house.” This could prevent you from seeking counseling when you need it.
Creating Gratitude Lists
Similar to comparing yourself to others, creating a gratitude list can sometimes make you feel worse. Liz Brown wrote an essay about her gratitude list and said, “After 100 days of gratitude lists, I gave up all hope of ever feeling better.” She goes on to explain that her counselor recommended making an “ingratitude list.” She said, “My ingratitude lists helped me grieve the things that I’d lost, missed out on, been cheated out of, and all the times life had kicked me straight in the heart.” In other words, the list helped her to understand her feelings of loss and then work through them.
Too Much Gratitude
If you feel like you should be grateful all the time, then you will feel bad if you aren’t. Feeling gratitude shouldn’t be forced. In one research study, they found that the people who wrote in their gratitude journals three times per week were less happy than those people who wrote in their gratitude journal once a week for six weeks.
What Can You Do To Feel Grateful?
By being mindful and paying attention to all five of your senses, you will feel more appreciation for other people or your surroundings. Also when you are curious and use “why” questions about what makes you happy, that will help you experience an awareness of gratitude.
Happy gratitude season, fellow moms!