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You see a twenty-something-year-old girl on Instagram with an enormous home full of the latest home décor, and a chef’s kitchen to boot.
You see a fit mom who just had a baby three weeks ago flaunt that she finally arrived at her pre-baby weight after three hellacious weeks.
You see a beautiful woman your age who doesn’t have a wrinkle, age spots, or defect in sight, even her legs are smooth & caramel-colored.
And sometimes you are left feeling you have nothing good to show for when, mama, you truly do!
Don’t let the comparison trap sabotage your happiness, positive well-being, and everything you’ve worked so hard for in your life.
You need a mindset makeover.
You’ll never stop comparing your looks, parenting abilities, relationships, and life overall, to those around you. But don’t fret.
I am going to share with you how to tackle those destructive thoughts that often lead to resentment, negativity, and depression.
You might be thinking, okay…um…how is gratitude is going to help me solve my problems?
Stay with me here.
The positive effects of gratitude are astounding.
Why is gratitude important?
Everyone knows that gratitude is a good thing, but here’s a little fact that not many folks are aware of: Gratitude is good for your body.
There are countless theories supporting why the gratitude mindset makes us healthier—from tougher immune systems thanks to more sleep, to healthier hearts due to less stress, and even lowered depression due to less negative thoughts.
Read on to learn 10 simple ways to practice gratitude and discover how a gratitude mindset can boost your mental health.
1. Keep a gratitude journal
A gratitude journal is the most beneficial way to practice gratitude and change your mindset. There are fantastic gratitude journals available that contain inspirational quotes and dedicated space to write several things you are thankful for each day of the week, along with weekly checkpoints. Or, if you prefer, you can use a regular notebook you might have lying around the house.
If you begin each day by writing down three things you are thankful for – a fresh cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, 7 hours of sleep, your son took out the trash without you asking- you begin each day on the right track. It sets the tone for your day when you make time to note the positive things in your life. It is easy to find the thorns; look for the silky rose petals.
A 2003 study showed there to be numerous benefits for keeping a gratitude journal. The study showed that the people who kept a journal worked out more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives overall, and were more optimistic. It also showed that people who kept the journal were more likely to make progress towards their goals.
In later studies, research shows that study participants who reflected on positive events had increased levels of happiness and reduced depressive symptoms for more than six months after the study.
2. Write a nice letter to someone
It feels so good to be on the receiving end of a “just because” card or a letter. What a surprise when you check your mail, and you have something other than utility bills…with a side of bills. It doesn’t have to be hand-written, although it is a nice touch. You can even send a sweet email.
When was the last time you received a note declaring how awesome you are?
While I’m sure there are many people rockin’ life with flair, sunshine, and sunflowers, we aren’t always good about sharing our feelings of admiration. We need to work on that.
If you want to write a letter of gratitude to someone but are unsure if you want the person to read it, go ahead and write it anyways. The simple act of writing the letter can help you better appreciate those sweet people in your life and move your focus away from negative feelings.
And hopefully, you will be writing in your journal that you are thankful you found a stamp on the bottom of your purse to send precious snail mail.
In a gratitude research study by the University of California, Berkeley, researchers enlisted 300 people with mental health challenges, including individuals suffering from anxiety and depression. The study randomly divided the people into three groups. All groups received counseling services, but the first group was instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks. The second group was requested to write about their thoughts and feelings on their negative experiences. The third group did not participate in any writing activity.
Guess what they discovered?
Compared to the individuals who only received counseling or wrote about negative experiences, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise concluded.
“Gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns.”
3. Pay it forward
If you’ve never been on the end of a Starbucks “pay it forward chain” or a bridge toll pay it forward, start one today. Buy a coffee for the person in front of you or cover the toll for the car ahead of you. Every day try to pay it forward. Paying it on doesn’t always mean you have to drop dollars.
You can pay it forward with your time. Return the shopping cart for the car next to you, let the mom with three kids go ahead of you in the grocery line, or another spontaneous act of kindness.
Acts of kindness, and feelings of gratitude, overflow our brains with a chemical called dopamine. When we are grateful for something (or someone) our brains reward us with a natural high. Because of this feel-good sensation, we are motivated to seek it again and become more apt to give thanks and do good for others.
4. Volunteer to help others
The key to having more gratitude for most people is to give back to others in their local community. Not only will you feel more grateful for the roof over your head, your clothes on your back, and the benjamins in your back pocket, studies have shown that volunteering for the sake of helping others improves our well-being, and thus our ability to have more gratitude.
Esteemed psychologist Martin Seligman supports this theory with his research in Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.
After testing all types of variables that help improve our well-being, he found that “volunteering is the single most reliable way to momentarily increase your well-being.”
If you’re a religious person, praying to your God daily can help to foster gratitude. Studies show those who frequently attend religious services and engage in religious activities, such as prayer or reading spiritual books, are more likely to be grateful.
Gratitude in prayer is about paying attention. It’s a habit of noticing and responding to what your God is providing for you.
While practicing gratitude does not require religious faith, faith enhances the ability to be grateful.
6. Share your happy thoughts
Your toddler went pee in the potty. Your husband made you a pot of coffee before he went to work. The sun is shining. You found a funny old photo of yourself sitting in a bowl of chili (I swear I wasn’t an adult).
Why wait until Thanksgiving dinner to share those happy thoughts or what you’re grateful for? Start a family tradition of sharing one good thing that happened to you that day, or something you’re grateful for, each time you sit down to dinner. Share your happy thoughts on your social media posts, instead of seizing the opportunity to vent. Those around you absorb the feelings you put out. You’ll notice the more you focus on happy thoughts, the happier you will become….and the more people will be drawn to you.
When participants in one study were made to cultivate gratitude, 23 percent showed a decrease in cortisol—the most prominent stress hormone.
But that’s not even the kicker.
80 percent of participants “showed changes in heart rate variability; a direct result of reduced stress levels.”
If that isn’t enough reason to start a daily gratitude routine, I don’t know what else is.
7. Try to seek out the positive in every scenario
It’s all too easy to remember the annoyances and frustrations in our daily lives.
Your husband threw his clothes on the floor after you just spent an hour cleaning up. Someone stole the parking spot you were about to turn into. The neighbor’s blaring his music too loud. You arrive on time to your family’s dinner reservation and are told it will be a ten-minute wait.
While I’m sure you can drum up a bucket load of frustrating scenarios, know that you can always draw a positive from each of these situations as well.
Let’s use the dinner reservation scenario as an example:
Negative mindset: Complain to the host that it is unacceptable, ask to speak to the manager, then sit and stew letting the situation ruin your mood for the evening.
Positive mindset: Ask the hostess if she has menus and crayons available, let the kids color or burn off energy before they sit down to eat, look over the menus to decide what you’re going to eat, and catch up on conversations with family.
Learn to counteract a negative situation with a positive. It is an exercise and can take time to master, but once you shift to a more positive mindset, you’ll feel a whole lot better.
8. Focus on your strengths
We all have things we are good at. Some of us are good at drawing, some are better at writing. Some moms can fashion mean martinis, some are better at shelling out killer Italian dishes.
Most of us aren’t good at everything we set out to do, and that’s okay. Sometimes we need more time to brew to achieve our optimum strength.
Instead of dwelling on the things you aren’t so great at, bask in your achievements and the things you rock at. Because not everyone knows how to rollerblade, bake a pie, or change a dirty diaper in less than 30 seconds.
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Though some choose to focus on a word or phrase, like “calm,” you can also focus on what you’re grateful for.
It took me some time to get used to meditating. I used to think it was too hippy-dippy, speaking honestly here. But now that I have incorporated it as part of my daily routine, I see why so many people do it. It clears your mind, decreases stress, and helps you to focus on the good.
According to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center:
“Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps the gray matter functioning and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive, and less resistant.”
10. Compliment others
Something as simple, such as “you look amazing in that sundress,” or “thanks for staying later today! I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Just a few sincere words can take someone from a run of the mill day to an awesome day. That one little compliment will lift their self-esteem, generate smiles, and they will likely be on cloud nine for the rest of the day.
It takes very little time to show your gratitude by recognizing the people you come in to contact with. Yes, even a stranger.
Make it a goal to compliment at least one person every day. You’ll start appreciating the small things in life, and you’ll perk up someone else’s day too. And don’t forget, when someone compliments you, don’t rebut or dismiss the compliment. Tell them, thank you!