Emotional Health

Giving Thanks: The Power of Gratitude

Recently, positive psychologists have been focusing on the use of gratitude during psychotherapy as well. As Emmons and Stern point out, “Gratitude practice can be a catalyzing and relational healing force, often untapped in clinical practice.” Though it started as a way to heal pathology, psychotherapy is also a tool for bolstering pre-existing strengths and teaching skills. While it isimportant that therapists help their patients work through legitimate pain, it is also useful for them to recognize times they have showed strength, made good choices, and coped well with hardships.

It’s been found that acknowledgement of feelings of gratitude can also connect with other positive emotions such as love, generosity, and forgiveness. In this way, it helps us feel more connected to others, one of the most essential ingredients to leading a fulfilling and happy life. (Seligman, 2002).

While it is a virtue to feel grateful, however, and some have an easier time than others, it is a skill that can be developed with work. While the concept is simple, according to researchers

“Because of numerous obstacles, gratitude, at least initially, requires discipline. So this is the paradox of gratitude: Although the evidence is clear that cultivating gratitude, in our life and in our attitude towards life, makes us happier and healthier people, more attuned to the flow of blessings in our lives, it is still difficult. Practicing gratitude is easier said than done. A number of evidence-based strategies, including journaling and letter writing, have proven effective in creating sustainable gratefulness. . what general features do these strategies share? In thematically keeping with the focus of this special issue, gratitude can be thought of as a mindfulness practice that leads to a greater experience of being connected to life and awareness of all the available benefits.” (Emmons and Stern, 2013)

One thing is clear: habits are best formed by daily practice, and with this, they can become lifelong assets. Although having a national day of “thanksgiving” is a wonderful way of helping us all get on the same page, if only practiced once a year, the positive effects of this tradition are fleeting. While some people do make a daily practice of saying thanks before meals in general, for many it is more rote than heartfelt.

If you want to try to make this a real, deeply felt practice, take some time to reflect on what you are truly grateful for. Think of the times you have felt blessed, especially by the generosity of others. Often we are surprised when we actually enumerate the ways in which we are supported, on a daily basis, by the people in our lives.

Better yet, find ways to express your thanks directly. If you have not expressed your feelings to people in your life who have been generous to you, it’s not too late to start. As one of my children said to me recently after I expressed regret about having failed to be in touch with someone I knew was going through a hard time, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” And I am grateful to have a daughter like her.


Emmons, Robert A., and Stern, Robin. “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Clinical Psychology: In Session 69:846– 855, 2013.
Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness. (2004).


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  • Diane Dettmann November 23, 2017 at 8:36 am

    A very helpful article! I started a gratitude journal fifteen years ago to help me through the loss of my husband. The daily entries are still a part of my evening routine and help me focus on the positive aspects of my day. The ideas and insights in this article will help me make those gratitude reflections even more meaningful. Thank you so much Dr. Ford and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone at Women’s Voices For Change!