When you battle clinical depression, practicing gratitude can feel like an impossible feat. Depression makes you feel worthless and overwhelmingly sad, causing you to isolate yourself from others and stop participating in activities that once brought you joy.
So when someone comes along and says, “Try to be grateful for the good things in your life,” you might just want to scoff at them and think, “yeah, okay.”
And we get that. When considering how to practice gratitude when depressed, it’s 100% understandable to feel this way. With that said, there is some merit to the idea. Gratitude and depression seem to be polar opposites. But research shows that practicing gratitude can be a valuable tool in your arsenal when fighting depression.
Things to Understand About Gratitude
If the thought of practicing gratitude seems impossible, that could be because you have a skewed idea of what it actually is. Perhaps you’ve been told, “Be thankful, others have it much worse than you,” or “You have so much to be grateful for, don’t complain.” If that’s the case, it’s no wonder you’ve built up a wall against how to practice gratitude when depressed.
So let’s set some things straight about this whole gratitude thing. Maybe then you’ll be a little more open to the whole idea.
- Gratitude isn’t some pie-in-the-sky ideal you can just expect to achieve.
Focusing on positive aspects of your physical and mental health takes conscious decisions. While depression can do a number on both your body and mind, it is possible to exercise your gratitude muscle to strengthen it. You just may have to work on it a little harder.
But, as with any exercise, the more you work it, the stronger that muscle becomes and the easier and more natural it will feel. Before long, if you commit to it, you’ll master how to practice gratitude when depressed.
- You can experience gratitude and other feelings simultaneously.
Your emotions and feelings are complex. Rarely do you ever feel one single thing at any given moment? It’s important to understand that you can experience feelings of sadness, anger, and grief alongside gratitude.
- Recognize that it’s okay if you struggle with feeling grateful.
Your feelings are neither “good” nor “bad.” Feelings just are. So if you find yourself feeling ungrateful, it’s okay. You’re not doing anything wrong. Attempting to focus on things that foster gratitude is a practice.
Sometimes it can feel more forced than others. That’s okay. The important thing is that you’re trying, and you continue to try.
- There are measurable benefits to practicing gratitude.
While practicing gratitude alone won’t “cure” depression, it positively impacts your life. Several studies have shown a positive correlation between gratitude and depression.
It may take time, but when you master how to practice gratitude when depressed, you’ll experience:
- greater life satisfaction
- better sleep quality
- a greater likelihood of seeking help for health concerns
- increased self-esteem
- feeling more optimistic
- improved relationships
Tips for Practicing Gratitude While Depressed
Now that we’ve established how gratitude is possible and that you don’t have to feel bad if you’re not good at it, let’s get into how to actually practice it.
1. Connect with others.
Yes, we know. This is a challenging one, especially if you’re battling depression. (Hey, we said it would take work, right?) While you may want to hide in your room away from everyone, isolating yourself isn’t going to help.
When learning how to practice gratitude when depressed, you have to make a conscious effort to spend time with others. Doing so can help you combat loneliness and depression. Obviously, it would be best to spend time with supportive people, not people who drain you.
One crucial point about spending time with others is that you don’t put any expectations on the results of hanging out with people. Just do your best to stay present in the moment.
2. Focus on something that doesn’t hurt.
Depression can manifest itself as physical discomfort. You may get headaches, body aches, or stomach pain. To get better at practicing gratitude, think about a part of your body that doesn’t hurt and be thankful for that. Even if it’s your right thumb or eyebrows, you can still be grateful they don’t hurt.
It may sound silly, but it is actually an excellent way to practice gratitude as often as possible. Try taking it one step further and saying what you’re grateful for out loud. There’s power in voicing your gratefulness.
3. Write out an ingratitude list.
Yes, we said it – an ingratitude list. Sometimes, separating out the things you’re not grateful for can help determine what you are grateful for.
Examine your list and think about each thing you list. Perhaps you have a guitar you used to really enjoy playing but has gathered layers of dust in the corner of your room. Did you write that you’re ungrateful for it just because it sits there, unplayed, making you feel bad about yourself? Or are just not interested in it due to your depression.
When you determine the things you’re ungrateful for, consider packing them away or donating them, so you don’t have to feel ungrateful every time you see them.
4. Focus on when you experienced kindness from someone else.
Depression and gratitude may not seem to go together, especially when you have feelings of self-depreciation and worthlessness. Perhaps you feel like nobody does anything for you because you don’t feel worth it right now.
But when learning to practice gratitude, try to think of a time when someone extended a kindness to you and made you feel special or happy. Think about teachers, family members, friends, or even the kindness of strangers. Focusing on these memories and being grateful for them can help you feel a sense of love and worth.
5. Look externally to find gratefulness.
When you’re fighting depression, you likely focus internally. You feel sad, lonely, sick, exhausted, and unmotivated to do anything. To strengthen your gratitude muscle, try focusing on something external you can be grateful for.
It can be something small like the framed art on your wall you bought because it reminds you of a happy time or maybe even the comfy sweatshirt you’re wearing. There’s no such thing as too small when it comes to practicing gratitude. As you get stronger at it, you’ll be able to look even further externally and, eventually, perhaps even inward, to find gratefulness.
6. Do something nice for someone.
Thanks to the 2000 Haley Joel Osment film, you’ve likely heard of the term “pay it forward.” Yes, finding the energy or desire to do something nice to help someone else out can be challenging. But helping others is a great mood-booster. And, it gives you a little perspective on some things to show gratitude for.
7. Express your gratitude in some way.
As we said earlier in tip #2, there is a lot of power in putting a voice to your gratitude. Even if you don’t say something you are grateful for out loud, you can text or email it
Or, if you have a gratitude (and ingratitude) journal, write it down. Eventually, you’ll have a long list of things to help you practice gratitude. When you feel comfortable reading the list aloud, you’ll give even more power to your thankfulness.
8. Make space for gratitude and all your other emotions.
Just because we’re telling you it’s important to learn how to practice gratitude when depressed doesn’t mean we think you should be devoid of other emotions.
On the contrary, your emotions are valid—all of them, not just gratitude.
When learning how to practice being grateful, and you’re feeling multiple emotions, analyze what you’re feeling. Allow yourself to feel angry about whatever is making you that way, then try practicing gratitude. There’s room for both.
Magnify the Benefits of Your Gratitude Practice With Professional Guidance
Learning how to practice gratitude when depressed isn’t a simple task. And it won’t help you overcome depression on its own. But partnering with a qualified mental health professional along with your gratitude practice can.
If you’re looking for depression treatment in San Diego, our team of experts at BOLD Health can meet you where you are. Our comprehensive intake evaluation touches on your biological and genetic makeup and any situations that have led to your depression. Together, through your customized depression treatment in San Diego, we’ll help strengthen your gratitude muscle. We’ll also give you the tools and strategies you need to overcome depression now and combat it in the future.
At BOLD Health, we also offer a highly-effection depression IOP in San Diego. So if you need additional support and a more rigorous treatment plan, we’ve got you covered. Throughout our 10-week depression IOP in San Diego, you’ll meet individually with your clinician, with others in group therapy, and even have the option for medication management, if needed.
We know it can be tough practicing gratitude when you feel the way you do. But with our help, you can learn how to do it more effectively and naturally. Our goal is to get you feeling more like yourself using the best, most proven-effection depression treatments available.
Contact us, and start feeling better and more grateful, sooner.