When looking for ways to support a sustained sense of well-being, plenty of experts are quick to tout a gratitude practice. And for good reason: Research has shown that engaging in gratitude offers tons of mental and physical health benefits, from stress relief, to better sleep, to higher self-esteem, and more.
What we don’t dive into as frequently is how we practice gratitude. While there isn’t one standard method or definition, positive psychiatrist and author of Everyday Vitality Samantha Boardman, M.D., says the intention for gratitude is paramount—but it often gets lost in translation. In fact, plenty of people make this gratitude mistake, and it’s “really misleading and [makes] us often unhappier,” she says on the mindbodygreen podcast.
But let’s waste no more time: Boardman dives into it below.
What people often miss when practicing gratitude.
Boardman shares that when it comes to gratitude, the key lies in directing it outward: “We [often] make gratitude all about ourselves,” she explains. “People mistakenly make a gratitude list [stating] I’m grateful for this because it makes me feel this way. We’ve got it wrong.” According to Boardman, this emphasis on self-immersion is the antithesis of what gratitude is all about—and that’s what can ultimately make you feel unhappier.
The solution? When you express gratitude to somebody else, try your best to make it about them. “What do you appreciate about that person?” she poses. “What do you appreciate about something? We have to make gratitude more other-oriented.”
Of course, that’s not to say self-expressions of gratitude are not important (in fact: they’re essential), but when you are extending that gratitude to others—make sure you thank them for who they are or what they do, not just how they make you feel.
That emphasis on the other is crucial, because it creates more happiness for all parties involved. Boardman declares that “so often, we don’t express gratitude to people because we think they already know how grateful we are or we’re just like, Oh, I can’t find the words or It’s going to be really awkward if I say that. But actually, when you put that on paper, not only will they relish it, they’re going to feel great. And you will, too, for a sustained period of time.”
As it turns out, the most effective way to experience the benefits of gratitude is to guide your attention outward—even if you may think those you appreciate already know it. And if you’re curious about ways to do just that? Well, we have a few actionable ideas.