Gratitude Done Right – More Than a Feeling

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, November 25, 2020
By Nicole Herdocia-Oria , RMFTI, MS

Here we are at the end of “Gratitude Month” as November has come to be observed when being grateful is all anyone seems to be talking about. Gratitude has substantial benefits that I’ll be highlighting here as well as provide some tips on how to actually stick to practicing gratitude long after we’ve finished all the turkey leftovers. (It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow get ready for many food references, I’m hungry!).

Collage of Nikki's family pictures

What Exactly is Gratitude?
Gratitude is not only the feeling of appreciation but the expression of said appreciation for the people, situations, and stuff in our lives that we value. In practicing gratitude, we’re being mindful of not only being present but of cherishing this present. Gratitude makes us feel like we’re not deprived of anything because we’re mindful of the abundance of things we do have. Gratitude = Wealth. (Now that’s the best get rich quick trick there is.)

What are the Benefits of Practicing Gratitude?
The Greater Good Science Center published the specific benefits of gratitude in “The Science of Gratitude” (2018):

  • increased happiness and positive mood
  • more satisfaction with life
  • less materialism
  • less likely to experience burnout
  • better physical health
  • better sleep
  • less fatigue
  • lower levels of cellular inflammation
  • greater resiliency
  • encourages the development of patience, humility, and wisdom
  • increases prosocial behaviors
  • strengthens relationships

In a nutshell (preferably pistachio), gratitude increases optimism and happiness.  It reduces stress, anxiety, and depression thus improving health and general well-being.
How? Let’s get technical:

When a person feels, expresses, or receives gratitude, the fun neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin which are associated with wellbeing and positivity, are released in the reward section of the brain causing one to feel good.  The more one practices gratitude the better they feel.  Isn’t that gravy?… I mean groovy?

How to Successfully Practice Gratitude.
One of the first assignments I have patients do is write down what they’re grateful for.  Journaling and listing what you’re thankful for can help tweak your perspective.  It helps you appreciate what’s important and let go of what’s not.  In highlighting what’s going right in your life you’re redirecting your focus from what may be presently difficult or disappointing, towards bigger picture items that are going well. Thus, shifting our perspective to a more positive one.

Here are a few steps to get you started that are easy as pie (oh my, pecan pie!):

  1. Think about a person you’re grateful for.
  2. Keep a journal you can update frequently of what memories, situations, people, things, and opportunities you are grateful for.
  3. Write a letter to someone you are grateful for, expressing why you’re grateful for them.  Sending it would be great but the mere exercise of writing it is helpful until you’re ready. Extra points if the letter is to yourself. J
  4. Set daily or weekly reminders to look out for what we can be grateful for.
  5. Say hello, thank you, and smile.
  6. Count your blessings at the end of each day. Write them down! There are no little blessings. Did something make you smile today? Are you healthy? Did your kid laugh? Did you eat? Your song came on? Do you own stretchy pants?
  7. Refer back to your lists/journal on a day you’re having trouble noticing or remembering your blessings.

You might not notice the benefits of practicing gratitude right away, but after several weeks and months, you will. The more we practice gratitude the more we train our brain to notice and appreciate the good stuff making us happier and more satisfied with our own lives.  I truly believe that it is through the expression of gratitude that we convey the greatest gift to ourselves and our loved ones. (and it doesn’t cost anything, plus it’s recession-proof!)

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
 – William Arthur Ward

With all of this in mind, I’d like to take a moment and express a little gratitude myself…Today is a particularly special day for me for one big reason (he’s 6’2”)…I’m so very grateful for a very special someone who has helped mold me into the person I am. I’m grateful for your wisdom and words that have given me a perspective which no book ever could. For always putting the three of us first, and for never ceasing to think of ways you can do more for us and everyone you come across. I’m grateful for the countless times you’ve unintentionally made me laugh. Thank you for always making me feel like your little princess no matter how old I get (which is still 27). Thank you for your constant support, guidance, and most importantly your unconditional love. I’m so proud and grateful for the man, son, dad, and abuelo that you are.

When I count my blessings, I count you twice.
Happy Birthday to my very first love, my daddy. I love ju too mush Papi!





“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Epictetus