Written by Karyn Hall

May 31, 2021

When you’re stressed, as many of us are now, gratitude is probably not on your list. Grateful for Aunt Mary who criticizes the way you dress? For your cousin who loves to tell you how great his life is going? For the difficult weather that makes a 20 minute trip take an hour, or the cancelled flights that leave you stranded at the airport? For the multiple difficulties of living in a pandemic situation?

It can be a real stretch to practice gratitude when you are running on empty. But amazingly, practicing gratitude can help reduce your stress. Looking for what you are grateful for can help refocus you. The moment may be a stressful one. At the same time, if you look carefully, you can find some things that are positive. Really. And that helps balance your view.

When you are stressed, it can seem like everything is horrible. You look at what is not going right and it feels like it’s your whole life. But truly, it’s not. And noticing what is going right, or what you have that you value, can help you through the stress.

Stranded at the airport? Maybe they have a restaurant you like and so you have food to eat? Or a friend who lives nearby with whom you can stay? Or someone who is willing to come get you?

There are different ways that gratitude can be helpful. Many studies over the past few years have shown that practicing gratitude makes a positive difference for people who tend to be anxious and/or depressed and for people in general as well.

One way gratitude has been shown to be helpful is to help you get unstuck from toxic emotions. People who practice gratitude tend to use more positive words and express more positive emotions, and express fewer negative emotion words. The lower the number of negative emotion words a person tends to use lowers the stress. So perhaps gratitude helps shift your attention to the positive and away from the negative.

What we also know is that gratitude helps even if you don’t share your gratitude. Practicing being grateful for the bus driver, even if you don’t tell him, has a benefit.

It’s also true, though, that the benefits of gratitude take place over time. Practicing gratitude daily for about 4 weeks shows a difference and the difference is even larger after 12 weeks.

When people are grateful, their brains function differently. Practicing gratitude can change the way the brain works and help you to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude as time goes on.

How can you practice gratitude?

Live a skill-full life

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