Gratitude gets a lot of attention this time of year. Even if you aren’t celebrating Thanksgiving, there are plenty of festivities that help you reflect and find grateful moments.

I’m a big fan of gratitude. It’s a very powerful practice that can change the way we see the world. But it can get a bad rap.

There are common ways that gratitude is expressed that can actually cancel out any goodness it can give us. If you recognize that you’re doing any of these, don’t worry. We all do them at some point and it’s very easy to turn it around. It’s not too late to bolster your practice in time to aid you in your holiday survival.

1. It gets ruined by the word “Should”
When we say ‘I really should be grateful for…’ we’re canceling the goodness before we even finish our sentence. Putting ‘should’ in there turns it from a statement of pure love to a statement of obligation.

Each time you find authentic gratitude in something, you are sending a little ping of happiness into your brain. This helps your brain stay on point and look for even more things that you’re grateful for in the world. Things you may have previously overlooked.

Strapping yourself with a feeling of obligation will not trigger positive feelings, and will not help you see more love in the world. It will help you stay on point with obligation, and see more areas of obligation in your world. No fun.

Keep your gratitude authentic. When you notice yourself ‘shoulding’ your gratitude, follow it up by focusing on something you’re truly grateful for.

2. The Pollyanna Complex
I never saw the movie, but I sure know what it represents. ‘Not being Pollyanna’ is offered up as a way to avoid being too positive (because God forbid). People look at this as equivalent to naïveté and completely ignoring their surroundings.

Practicing gratitude can be seen as a ‘being Pollyanna’ and make people back off from using this practice to the fullest potential.

Being authentically grateful as many times as you want will not turn you into a naïve person that gets blindsided by the ‘real’ world. Being too grateful will not set you up and make you miss a thing. It will only help you catch all that goodness that’s present in your world (and that you’re missing if you think being ‘too positive’ is a bad thing).

I notice that I do this when I’m dealing with a hard circumstance – something that I think needs my full, logical, focus. Sometimes my brain says ‘no’ to feeling gratitude because ‘this is serious – no time for frivolousness’. But the best thing to do at that point is to find gratitude. Positive thinking opens up all the creative thinking centers in your brain and helps you find more solutions.

3. Using the Cliff’s Notes version
If your response sometimes is ‘of course I’m grateful for things in my life’ and you leave it at that, you may not be going as far as you think with your practice.

Gratitude is something to cultivate. It’s something to dwell on, feel, and repeat often. The second you use the short ‘Of course I am’ version, you’re not living in it. You’re dismissing it. You may not realize that you’re doing this, but if you’re not being present and feeling your gratitude each time you state it, it won’t work to it’s fullest potential.

I’m especially guilty of this one when it comes to the constants in my life that yes, of course I’m grateful for. My hubby, my family, my doggies, and the roof over my head. I make sure I deliberately find gratitude in these things on a regular basis. It’s not stating the obvious – it’s relishing how good they really are. And it makes me appreciate them even more.

Gratitude works because you’re sending little pings of happiness to your brain, and telling it to keep an eye out for more. 

The more you see, the more you feel. The more you feel, the more you will see in the future. You can’t fake your way through that process.

Savor the goodness

Avoid the gratitude killers – be authentic each time you state it, avoid telling yourself that you should be grateful, and don’t take your gratitude as just a given.

Each day, find 3 different things that you’re truly grateful for. Dwell on each one. Savoring it like a good drink.

You can be grateful for a person, something about your body, or even the coins in your wallet. It can be big like gratitude for your whole family, and it can be small like gratitude for the beautiful tree that you just drove by.

Gratitude comes in the form of joy, appreciation, optimism and hopefulness. When it’s authentic and it feels good, there’s no getting it wrong.

It doesn’t take long to train your brain to look for gratitude. Keep up with the practice, and you may find an uptick in happy moments within a few days. This is one of my favorite, simple tools that lead to a big shift in happiness.

Start cultivating gratitude today, and keep it up daily. It just may be the extra support you need during the holidays.