November is a great month to start a life-enhancing gratitude practice.

Conquering Cognitions
Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

On the first day of November, my social media feed usually explodes with gratitude posts. For 30 days, people focus on sharing the things they appreciate in their life and this starts a ripple effect of gratitude. Then, sadly, it often stops when the month is over. 

I love the heart of this November challenge, and it would be great if we could continue it year-round. I am not recommending that it continues through social media, but rather that it becomes a personal practice. 

As we enter this month of gratitude, here are a few things to remember about this health-promoting technique.

“In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day — or to celebrate each special day.”
Rasheed Ogunlaru
Image by Bela Geletneky from Pixabay

Gratitude and Difficult Emotions Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Some people believe that gratitude is only compatible with happiness. It is easier to focus on things we appreciate when we feel good, but gratitude can be especially helpful during adversity. When we are discouraged, unhappy, or frustrated, a grateful attitude can help us cope. 

When we experience seemingly opposing feelings, we tend to talk about them with a butinstead of an and. For example, I’m happy you got the job, but sad you are moving. Feelings on two ends of the spectrum are not mutually exclusive — they can co-exist. 

We can be happy that someone found a new job and sad that they are moving. Likewise, we can feel grateful for our marriage and frustrated with our spouse. The more we focus on our gratitude, the less frustrated we will likely feel, and this is where the power lies. 

Gratitude does not mean we ignore life’s challenges.  It is acknowledging that life is complex, and sometimes we have to dig through the weeds to find the flower. 

I recently talked to a friend whose father has spent several years waiting for a kidney transplant. She shared that he received a call recently about an available kidney, and they excitedly rushed to the hospital. He was prepped for surgery, and then they received the devastating news that the donor’s kidney was not healthy enough for transplant. 

The whole family was understandably devastated. Despite the disappointment, my friend stated, “At least now we know that he is first on the list, and that is encouraging.” A great example of gratitude amid challenges.

Gratitude does not erase the pain, but it can help us attend to things we appreciate in life despite the pain. It is a mindset that gives us strength as we heal. 

Gratitude Is Different From Positivity

Gratitude is not false positivity. It is a practice that helps shift our focus and promotes healthier, more balanced thinking. It does not change the events of the day, but it can adjust how we think about them, and this is helpful to our mood.

This morning I planned to hike with a friend to photograph the beautiful fall foliage, but I woke up to rain. The day was cold, grey, and gloomy, and this mirrored my mood.

I was disappointed about the canceled hike and sat with those emotions for a bit. Then, I took some time to consider the day. We need rain to reduce fire risk which is a constant threat in the Western States, and this provided me an opportunity to catch up on some indoor tasks that I had been neglecting.

It was not the day I expected, but it was the day I was given.

When I woke up to rain, I could have looked outside and said, “It’s raining. This is great. I love it.”  This statement is not true - I am not a fan of rainy weather, and simply saying it would not have made it true. A more honest statement for me was, “I wish it wasn’t raining, but I know we need it.”  A sentiment that was true and shifted my focus from me to the larger good. 

“By living the gratefulness we don’t feel, we begin to feel the gratefulness we live.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast
Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

Gratitude Comes in Many Forms

There are many options for practicing gratitude such as writing down five things you appreciate about your life every day in a journal, or writing someone a letter to express your thanks for their support in your life. You can send someone a quick text or silently express gratitude while meditating.

I find it easiest to practice gratitude throughout the day. I am not great about writing in a journal, but I am good about pausing when I smile.  When I catch myself enjoying something, I take note of the situation and internally express my thanks. Quick, simple, and beneficial. 

The important thing is finding a way to practice gratitude consistently because it is a powerful agent of change in our life.

And, there is research to prove it. In one study, participants were randomly assigned to three groups: write five things you are grateful for in your day, list five daily hassles, or five ways you are better or worse off than others (social comparison). 

The gratitude group reported increased positive affect, more helping behaviors, and improved sleep (longer sleep duration, less time to fall asleep, feeling more rested upon waking). An especially noteworthy finding is that the spouses of the participants in the gratitude condition noticed positive changes in their partners. Other people can see the beneficial changes of daily gratitude! 

We are forgetful, so to maintain a consistent gratitude practice, it is helpful to have a reminder. Despite our best intentions, if we don’t remember what we are supposed to do, it doesn’t get done.  This is one of the benefits of a gratitude journal - it provides a visual prompt.

Final Thoughts

As we enter November and gratitude articles and posts start to flood the media, take a moment to think about how you can incorporate this practice into your life.

This month will provide plenty of daily reminders which may help you establish a new habit. Gratitude is a skill with cumulative effects, so the more you use it, the better you feel.

What are you grateful for today?

Originally published on Please follow me on Newsbreak for more articles on healthy living, self-care, and personal growth.

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Clinical psychologist turned writer | PsyD | Outdoor enthusiast | Museum lover | We are stronger together | - healthy cognitions can conquer almost anything

Colorado Springs, CO

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