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Finding gratitude when times are tough

A man in a baseball cap and glasses looks off into the distance.

Nov. 26, 2020—This year it may feel harder than ever to get into the Thanksgiving spirit. And that's OK. It can be difficult to feel grateful in a year that has brought so much hardship and loss.

But trying to find things to be grateful for can be good for your physical and mental health. According to HelpGuide and others, studies have shown that gratitude helps you:

  • Experience more positive emotions.
  • Reduce feelings of depression.
  • Feel better about yourself.
  • Improve your relationships.
  • Strengthen your immune system.
  • Improve your quality of sleep.

Practice makes perfect

Feeling grateful doesn't necessarily come naturally to all of us—or at all times. It can be hard to achieve when things seem to be going the wrong way.

That's where practice comes in. Here are some exercises from Mental Health America and other experts that can help you strengthen your gratitude muscles:

Start a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, write down something good that happened to you. Research shows that keeping a gratitude journal actually makes you more appreciative and happy.

Remember the people you're grateful for. Think about those who've make a difference in your life and why you're glad to know them. Who are the people who have inspired you at critical times? Now is a good time to write them a thank-you note. They'll be grateful to know how much they mean to you—and so will you.

Give thanks to others when they help. Saying "thank you" when someone goes out of their way to make your life easier isn't just good manners. It can boost the mood of the person you're thanking and make you a little happier too.

Reflect on the good in your life. Even in hard times, there are good things around you. Take a moment to sit and savor a simple pleasure. This can be as basic as the roof over your head, the beauty of a sunrise or a warm cup of tea.

Keep a "gratitude jar." Write down things you're grateful for as they occur to you and put these slips of paper into a jar. When you need a boost, pull a few out and read them aloud.

If you're struggling with loneliness, depression or anxiety, reach out to your doctor or a mental health counselor. Help is out there—and that's one more thing to be grateful for.

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