gratitude fatigue - journal

Suffering from Gratitude Fatigue? 10 Useful Ideas to Revitalize Your Gratitude Practice

It’s like flossing. You know you should do it. Afterall, there’s research to back it up; a daily gratitude practice makes you happier and healthier. But what if you’ve started to dread your gratitude practice? Do you struggle to come up with new things each day? Do you feel annoyed with this mindfulness exercise? If these feelings resonate with you, you’re probably suffering from gratitude fatigue.

Gratitude Fatigue–It Happens

For a long time, my gratitude practice was rewarding. Writing in my journal for over a year, I was familiar with the benefits to my well-being. Some nights, I would even take time to peruse over past entries, reminiscing on the many blessings in my life. I really enjoyed the time of reflection.

And then I didn’t. Instead of looking forward to this “me time” each evening, I started to resent the obligation. I didn’t want to write in my pretty journal. I was distracted, wanting to read my book or watch Instagram reels. This forced self-care was making me bitter.

Is It Really a Thing?

One thing I’ve learned in my 50 years of life is that if I’m feeling something, I’m probably not alone. So, I decided to take a break from my gratitude practice and let this concept of gratitude fatigue percolate. Are other people experiencing this feeling too?

Then, one day over coffee, my friend, Rachel, mentioned that she had recently changed up her gratitude practice. I was intrigued and asked her to explain. She described feelings similar to mine: anger at feeling “forced” to do something. Her practice had become “rote” and obligatory, leaving no sense of joy or calm–only frustration.

Suddenly, I felt justified. Others were feeling this too. Huh.  So, it really is a thing.

Gratitude Practice–Why bother?

These days, you see the buzzword, gratitude, everywhere: marketing campaigns, strategies to engage employees, ways to promote mindfulness at school. And there is good reason for that. In 2003, Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough released breakthrough research on the benefits of a regular gratitude practice on well-being.

This led to a myriad of new studies on how the conscious act of being thankful can improve our well-being and positive affect. Care to learn more? The article, “Benefits of Gratitude: 28+ Surprising Research Findings,” does a great job outlining some of the most compelling data.

I tested the theory myself. I had a rewarding gratitude practice for well over a year and even did my own gratitude challenges. (You can find my last two on my website here: 2021 & 2022.) Even though it was initially a positive force in my life, the daily practice began to feel normalized, lacking its initial positive effects.

gratitude challenge day 7 family recipes
Day 7 of 2022’s Gratitude Challenge

Are the Benefits of a Gratitude Practice Sustainable?

Although research supports that well-being and positive affect benefit from a regular practice, there is also research that determined that it’s not easy to keep up with a consistent practice. But honestly, is that surprising? Lots of things that are good for you are hard to sustain on a regular basis: eating properly, exercising, even getting enough sleep.

I liked the metaphor that Glad Doggett used in her article, Gratitude Fatigue is Real, and It Could Be Stealing Your Joy:

“I learned that gratitude is like a muscle. Working it consistently makes it stronger — yes — but, like an overworked muscle, it needs time to rest…Overworking your gratitude muscle can lead to a strained, tired practice that no longer gives you the positive vibes you’ve come to expect. The reason the euphoria doesn’t last is because your brain adapts over time to the positive outcomes your practice initially creates, which results in less powerful feelings. Again, like muscles, to get more out of your practice, you have to occasionally switch things up.”

So You Have Gratitude Fatigue–What Now?

If your practice has morphed into something you loathe and creates negative emotion in your life, it’s probably time for a change.

10 Useful Ideas to Revitalize Your Gratitude Practice

1. Go Deeper

Are you finding it difficult to find new things for which you’re grateful? Instead of simply creating a list, go deeper. Choose one and consider why you feel grateful or how you contributed to that positive result. Grateful that your presentation at work went well? Why did it go well? Did you collaborate with colleagues? Did your spouse do double duty with the kids the evening before so you could prepare? How did you contribute to that positive result? Maybe you need to give yourself a pat on the back for putting in the extra time to make sure a fantastic result. Asking probing questions can spark a new sense of depth to gratitude.

2. Revamp the Logistics

Do you usually journal at night in bed? Try in the morning with coffee. Change up the where, when and how often of your practice.

3. Change the Way You Practice

I think many of us are under the impression that gratitude practice must be done in a certain way. My friend, David, was describing his extremely rewarding practice that involved writing letters of thanks to the people in his life. Surprisingly, he said to me, “I know I should be doing it a different way–writing the 3 things down in a journal.” But why? The “right” way is whatever works best for you. Journaling not inspiring you? Switch it up. Try baking thank you cakes or simply taking a moment of reflection while you look at the trees on your daily walk.

4. Share Your Practice

Expressing your gratitude to others can take your practice to a new level. In addition to the positivity experienced by appreciating the good in your own life, sharing those feelings with others brings joy to their lives. Everyone wants to be seen and appreciated. David decided to write one letter each day to those people who had bettered his life in some way: coaches, teachers, his spouse. “It was the greatest thing I did in my life. It made their day. And reconnecting with them made my day.”

5. Engage Your Senses

Try pairing your practice with something pleasant for your other senses: have a cup of tea out of your favorite mug, light a scented candle, play that special song, or write with a new pen and beautiful journal. Bring joy to the practice from different angles.

6. Embrace Awe

Rachel got burnt out on her gratitude practice of journaling. She wanted it to feel more natural; she longed to connect to something beyond herself. Now, when something good happens and she feels a flash of gratitude, she pauses and looks up at the sky or any accessible natural beauty.  The pause gives her time to reflect on why she is thankful while breathing in her surroundings, appreciating the world around her at the same time.

Finding Stillness in nature
A Forest in the Winter – the perfect place to “Embrace Awe”

7. Put Gratitude to Action

Similar to sharing your practice, this is for those of us whose love language is “acts of service.” If you enjoy showing people how you love and appreciate them instead of telling them, this may be the change you need. Instead of keeping your practice to yourself, turn it into a kind act for someone else. Grateful for your colleague’s help on a project? Take them out for a coffee. Thankful for your child’s help with the yard work? Treat them to a trip to their favorite park when they’re not expecting it.

8. Extend Your Gratitude

Consider gratitude “projects.” Similar to the kind acts above, except with a more meditative spin. Choose a project that takes a daily investment of time: think about someone special as you paint them a picture, knit them a sweater or walk their dog every morning.

9. Turn Your Practice Upside Down

Think about the root of your practice and do its opposite. If you normally pause and reflect on gratitude when something is good, try reflecting when something is annoying you. Instead of doing a kind act for whom you are grateful, try doing something kind for the neighbor who always complains you are too noisy.

10. Take a break.

None of these tips working? Take a couple weeks off, then try again. Sometimes, we just need to rest the muscle.

A Successful Practice Takes Practice

Nurturing a fulfilling gratitude practice takes time and energy. But, like any aspect of self-care, it’s an investment that will reap rewards. So, if you’re feeling pessimistic about your current practice, try switching things up. It might just be the jolt you need to revitalize your practice.

"It's a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack."
-Germany Kent

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