September 11, 2023

Why Is Gratitude So Important | What Does Gratitude Really Mean?

Imagine a serene morning. You’re sipping a steaming cup of your favorite tea, gazing out at a breathtaking sunrise. In that tranquil moment, you pause to appreciate the warmth of the cup in your hands, the soothing aroma, and the exquisite beauty of the dawn. This simple act, often overlooked, is the essence of gratitude. It’s a potent tool that can elevate your mental well-being, and in this article, we’ll explore how gratitude works and why is it hard to be grateful at times. 

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The above quote captures the essence of focusing on the negative. At times it feels like our brain is only noticing what is not well in our life. There is an explanation for this. With the help of neuroscience, we now know that our brain is a survival machine and constantly scans for threats and releases stress hormones when it senses threats. It is a complex bundle of neurons with limitations to complex interpretations and meaning-making. Our brain does not know if we are chased by a lion or worried about a negative Instagram comment. This is why we need to stop and self-reflect so we are not running in a constant fight or flight reaction. We need to let our brain know that we are not in a life-threatening situation, so it can relax. Back to the topic of gratitude. Let’s define gratitude.  

What Does it Mean To Be Grateful?

Gratitude isn’t merely a polite “thank you.” It’s a profound mindset, a transformative way of seeing the world. It’s about recognizing and appreciating the everyday blessings, whether they’re monumental or minuscule. This practice isn’t just a feel-good concept; it’s backed by science. Research shows that regularly practicing gratitude can reduce stress, improve relationships, and even enhance physical health (i). While we all know that being grateful is good for us, why is it hard to maintain a state of gratitude? 

Why Is It Hard To Be Grateful?

In a world that often feels chaotic and challenging, embracing gratitude can sometimes seem like an uphill battle. Like we mentioned earlier, our brains are wired to focus on problems rather than what is going right in our lives. To embark on a successful gratitude journey, it’s vital to acknowledge and overcome common mindsets and barriers. These hurdles may include the tendency to compare ourselves to others or the negativity bias that makes us fixate on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. You might want to ask yourself: 

Pondering these questions should help you identify barriers that are preventing you from cultivating gratitude. Shifting to gratefulness requires a conscious mental shift, which is one of the main focuses of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The term “reframing” suggests that we ought to ask what frame of mind we are operating in and “Is there another way to interpret our present reality?”. More than empathizing and providing a safe space, a successful therapy space provides critical information and feedback to help us understand our “faulty thinking” and “challenge our negative beliefs” about ourselves and others.

Debunking Myths Around Gratitude

Before diving deeper into the practice of gratitude, let’s dispel some misconceptions about gratitude. One prevalent myth is that gratitude is all about forced positivity, ignoring life’s challenges. In truth, it’s about finding balance, acknowledging pain, and still embracing the good. Grateful people still feel the emotional pain of hardship, they process their pain, allow space to heal, but eventually they focus on the richer meaning of their loss. 

One of the big tasks of grief counseling is to set with pain and allow ourselves to feel our feelings. Only then it is possible to experience joy, because we felt our pain courageously. In short gratitude is not forced positivity, refusing to see reality, but rather being in full harmony with all our emotions and accepting rather than expecting. 

The Science Behind Gratitude

To fully appreciate the impact of gratitude, it’s essential to understand the science behind it. When you express gratitude, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitters. This not only improves your mood but also enhances your overall well-being. Moreover, practicing gratitude can reduce the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. This leads to lower stress levels and a calmer mind (i).

Exercising Gratitude During Hardship

When life throws curveballs, gratitude becomes a lifeline. It’s during challenging times that the transformative potential of gratitude truly shines. You can learn practical exercises that can help you find silver linings even in the darkest clouds. From keeping a gratitude journal to practicing mindful reflection, these techniques can transform hardships into opportunities for growth. As you start your gratitude journey, consider the following prompts:

  1. What are three small things for which you are grateful today?
  2. What mindset are you embracing today: gratitude or cynicism?
  3. What act of kindness or gratitude can you practice today to change your negative frame of mind?
  4. How are your current challenges aiding in your growth toward resilience and wisdom?
  5. Whom or what should you let go of today to fully experience life?
  6. Who is one person you feel gratitude towards today? As you reflect on this individual, observe how your emotions shift towards a grateful attitude.

As you reflect on these questions, consider being kind and patient to yourself. Changing the way we see ourselves and the world requires compassion toward self and others. 

The Power of Gratitude in Relationships

Gratitude isn’t limited to improving your mental health; it can also strengthen your relationships. Expressing appreciation to loved ones fosters a deeper connection and enhances the quality of your interactions. Moreover, it creates a positive feedback loop where your gratitude is reciprocated, enriching your relationships even further. 

Tips for Practicing Gratitude Daily

Gratitude isn’t a one-time event; it’s a lifelong practice. The key is to incorporate it into your daily life, making it a habit that nurtures your mental wellness. Start with small, manageable acts like sending thank-you notes or beginning your day with positive affirmations. As you progress, you’ll find that gratitude becomes an integral part of your daily routine, enriching your life in countless ways. Here are five ideas to help you cultivate gratitude:

  1. Gratitude Journal: Start a gratitude journal where you write down three things you’re grateful for each day. These can be big or small, from a beautiful sunset to a kind gesture from a friend. Regularly reflecting on the positive aspects of your life can help shift your focus away from negativity.
  2. Thank You Letters: Take the time to write heartfelt thank-you letters or emails to people who have made a difference in your life. Expressing your gratitude directly to others not only makes them feel appreciated but also strengthens your own sense of gratitude.
  3. Gratitude Walks: Go for a gratitude walk in a natural setting like a park or forest. As you walk, pay attention to the beauty of your surroundings and the sensations in your body. Take a moment to express gratitude for the simple pleasure of being in that moment.
  4. Gratitude Jar: Create a gratitude jar in your home. Whenever something positive happens or you feel thankful for something, write it on a small piece of paper and place it in the jar. Over time, you’ll accumulate a collection of reminders of the good things in your life.
  5. Morning Gratitude Ritual: Start your day with a gratitude ritual. Before getting out of bed, close your eyes and think of three things you’re grateful for. It could be the warmth of your blankets, the anticipation of a delicious breakfast, or the love of your family. This sets a positive tone for the day ahead.

Remember that gratitude is a mindset and a practice that can be cultivated over time. By incorporating these ideas into your daily life, you can develop a more positive and grateful outlook on life.

When Mental Health Concerns Interferes With Our Sense of Gratitude

It is important to note that depression and mental health issues can significantly impact our sense of gratitude and joy in several ways. They can cause emotional disturbance, leading to persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or numbness, making it difficult to experience joy or gratitude. Additionally, negative thoughts and emotions can overshadow our positive experiences. When people suffer from depression, they also experience reduced energy and motivation to engage in activities they once enjoyed in life.


Depression also results in social isolation, causing individuals to withdraw from others. When dealing with chronic mental health issues, seeking professional help is crucial. Simply wishing away our depression will not increase our sense of gratitude and joy, but seeking help can alleviate our mental health suffering, enhancing our overall sense of joy and satisfaction in life. Here is an article to help you learn more about depression and when to seek help. 

To sum up, gratitude is not an infrequent sentiment reserved for extraordinary moments; it’s a treasure you can embrace daily. As you set out on your gratitude path, keep in mind that it’s perfectly normal to face challenges and seek help when necessary. What truly counts is your ability to rise again and persist on the journey towards joy and gratitude.


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