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The Gratitude Plan

We can think about gratitude as having two distinct parts. The first part is the emotional side – you can feel grateful when someone does something for you or feel grateful because something has happened. You get to indulge in all the wonderful emotions that come along with appreciation, but you don’t necessarily have to return it back. The second part is the behavioral side – gratitude is really a call to action. When you feel grateful, there is an invitation to share the emotional feast by expressing your gratitude with another, and then you can both be together in a warm, bubble of positive emotions.

It’s normal to struggle with experiencing and acting on gratitude at times. Sometimes it can feel like there is nothing to be grateful for. You can also feel uncomfortable, awkward, or embarrassed expressing gratitude back to another person. I really struggle with the acting side of gratitude, and that’s why for two weeks straight, I forced myself to act on gratitude each day to help spread the warm and fuzzies around the world.

How to show gratitude? This is the approach that I took to plan out how to show gratitude – it worked for me because I am quite methodical and strategic, but many people enjoy just following their emotions each day and showing gratitude to whomever or whatever their body is telling them to. And that’s okay – gratitude is personal.

Step 1: Feel the love! To start this, I had to try and engage in gratitude. There are many ways that we can do this – writing down ‘three good things’ each day, meditating on deliberate appreciation, and even writing out letters or texts of appreciation to people (but not hitting send). I tried all three of these and found the letters to be the easiest way as it helped me a) feel gratitude towards one specific person rather than just things that happened during the day and b) by writing the letter, I had done some of the acting work already!

Step 2: Act on the love! I knew that some days would be harder than others depending on who I was expressing gratitude toward and how I was doing this. Calling my Mum would be a breeze, but interestingly, giving appreciation to my best friend felt much harder. So for this challenge, I planned out each day, who I was expressing gratitude toward, the reason why, and how I wanted to do it. I then made sure that I chose an easier way of showing gratitude to the people I was less comfortable being that vulnerable with.

Day Who Why How
1 Mum For her love and support whilst I waited for my PhD results – I want to call her and tell her that I am grateful
2 Best friend For buying me coffee the other day I feel a little embarrassed being vulnerable with her, so I am going to write a note and leave it at her door.

So…how was it?

Equal parts hard and amazing! Whilst sometimes I felt I had to wrestle with my own anxieties and feelings of being awkward, I am so glad that I did. It ended up facilitating a lot of conversations with people who I wouldn’t normally talk to about deep, personal things. I think that it actually helped strengthen my relationships with people, too. Acting on the gratitude also meant that people expressed things back to me that I’d done, which was a bit of a nice surprise! It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all you do is “receive,” but it turns out you can be “giving” to others in ways that you never even knew!

Within myself, I also felt that I was a lot happier when I was following along with this gratitude plan. This didn’t surprise me as I know that just feeling the emotions of gratitude makes me feel good, but I felt that acting on it really boosted this.

Don’t get me wrong though, there were days where it was hard to feel grateful. If I was really stressed, or low, the idea of investing energy into telling someone else how grateful I am felt impossible. Fortunately, I was able to pull through this, and when I actually mustered the energy to do it, I felt a whole lot better.

Over to you! So then, I challenge you to make a gratitude plan! I have included how mine looked, but you can make this work to whatever fits you. The act of gratitude is deeply personal – so don’t stress if you feel a plan isn’t for you or what you’re grateful for isn’t big enough. Importantly, even if expressing gratitude doesn’t make you feel better, it is an act of kindness that can really make someone’s day.

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James Fowler

James Fowler (he/him/his) is a Research Assistant and Community Advocate living in Australia. James’ research interests include developing a greater understanding of the needs and experiences of gender, sexual, and romantic minorities and using this to inform the design of targeted mental health treatments. In July, James will be starting a PhD investigating the peer-design of a web-based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Program for LGBTQI+ young people. James also co-founded the Australian community project ‘Queerious Minds’, which aims to inform and inspire people all around the world with LGBTQI+ person’s stories and wisdom.

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