According to Positive Psychology, gratitude is one of 24 universal character strengths that has been found across cultures and time (here in Texas and beyond). It’s also one of the top five character strengths that is positively correlated with better well-being (i.e. those who experience gratitude regularly are more likely to lead healthier, happier lives).
[If you want to find your top 5 character strengths, and get a good date out of it, visit here.]
Although some may naturally possess high levels of gratitude, others must work to develop this trait through practice. Unfortunately, those who do not naturally possess high levels of gratitude don’t always respond well to the idea that being grateful could improve their lives. I mean, who hasn’t heard the phrase “you should be grateful for what you have,” or something like that, in response to a complaint about a situation that was genuinely difficult or painful to deal with.
That’s not really helpful. Being told that you should practice gratitude in a situation like that, can feel like an insensitive attack against your personal experience and struggle in life. Like being slapped in the face by Will Smith at the Oscars, it can be totally awkward and uncomfortable.
The problem is, until you’ve experienced the positive effects of developing gratitude as a character strength, it can be difficult to understand how it works. Especially if you feel misunderstood, unaccepted, out of place, or like an outcast of society because you practice (or have the desire to practice) polyamory, ethical non-monogamy, kink, or some other form of alternative lifestyle, like paganism. How the heck is gratitude supposed to help solve your problems?
What is a Character Strength?
A character strength is a positive trait that a person may possess. It’s a good quality that represents inner strength rather than weakness or faultiness. Positive Psychology recognizes 24 character strengths that people naturally possess at varying degrees.
By working with a mental health therapist who utilizes Positive Psychology as a tool to aid clients, you can begin to work on developing the character strengths that naturally improve well-being. Next to gratitude, love and hope were also highly correlated with better overall well-being.
So you see, suggesting that you should work on developing gratitude as a character strength is not meant to be a slight against you; and although it can certainly feel like an insensitive remark that negates your struggles and feelings, at the end of the day, gratitude really can help.
That’s not to say that your feelings related to your identity aren’t valid. Feeling grateful can be difficult when you’re struggling to accepting yourself for who you are; like if you’re curious about polyamory, ethical non-monogamy, kink, or other alternative lifestyles like paganism, but you don’t feel safe enough to explore that side of you. If that sounds like you, don’t be too hard on yourself when gratitude doesn’t come naturally. The good news is, gratitude is a character strength that can be developed.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Research tells us that gratitude is easily contrasted with catastrophizing. Catastrophizing focuses on danger, while gratitude focuses on what you are receiving. So really, it’s about changing what you focus on in your personal experience with life.
Gratitude has been shown to help individuals:
- Decrease depression
- Improve sleep hygiene
- Form stronger relationships
- Develop stronger spirituality
- Lessen materialism
- Increase humility
That’s because instead of letting your brain seek out and focus on the bad things in life, you start working to seek out and focus on the good. It doesn’t take away the bad things, but it does change the atmosphere of your mind, which will help to improve your overall sense of well-being.
So start hunting for the good stuff in life. Make a point to write down what you truly feel grateful for every day (big or small), and reflect on why you’re grateful for said things. If you really want to challenge yourself, think about a negative situation that you’ve experienced, and consider whether or not there’s anything you can be grateful for from that negative situation. What was the benefit (if any)?
If you’re having a hard time doing this work on your own, or you think you might be interested in working with a mental health therapist, give me a call, or schedule a free, brief consultation using the tool below. Sometimes, talking through your struggles and working through your pain is a necessary first step to developing gratitude as a character strength.
I serve individuals here in Houston and throughout the state of Texas online via Telehealth. Positive Psychology is a staple in my mental health counseling practice. Plus, working with folks who are polyamorous, ethically non-monogamous, into kink, or other alternative lifestyles, like paganism, is my specialty.