Why Gratitude Works

Underneath the phrase “Be grateful for what you have” is a subtle message that what we don’t have shouldn’t matter as much as the things we do have.  Alas, if gratitude feels like a little guilt trip, then no thanks.  But gratitude isn’t about pretending that we don’t want or need the things we don’t have, or ignoring the pain or hurt about something missing.  Gratitude also isn’t about pretending that life is sunshine and rainbows all the time either.

Instead, gratitude can be used in moments of pain, loss, or discomfort to look at the other side of these experiences – how they can be sources of strength, if we let them.  How might getting a horrible customer review motivate you to do better next time?  How can a prolonged wait for results help you learn patience and frustration tolerance?  How might not having a partner teach you how to be comfortable in your own company?

Gratitude isn’t black and white – it’s not about owning only the good and ignoring or pushing away the bad.  It’s about honouring the bad, welcoming the bad, and then using the bad to understand how it makes you a more whole and integrated person.  This is why and when gratitude works.


What are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a daily basis? 

Try out a few of these activities:

  • Start your day by thinking of 3 things you’re grateful for before you leave the house – big or small. A hot cup of coffee, that you got out of bed, that your partner took the kids to school today, your health, the flowers in the yard…
  • Try saying ‘thank you’ to yourself when you accomplish something, big or small. Sending a tough email, meeting a work deadline, tying your shoes, making a nice dinner, getting to work on time…
  • Do something nice for someone, big or small. Happiness and gratitude are universal and infectious, they don’t have to be yours for you to enjoy them.  Hold open a door, compliment the checkout clerk, give an old friend a call, do something for your partner, leave a note in your kid’s lunch…


Give these a go every day for a whole week and see what happens.  It’s possible nothing will change, but if we live our life habitually, why not try cultivating gratitude-enhancing habits?


By: Dr. Elizabeth Landau