Are affirmations and gratitude truly effective?

Smiling female showing happiness, gratitude and positive wellbeing

Susan the founder of The Wellbeing and Wellness Coach writes about why she believes gratitude and affirmation practices also require validation and acceptance.

What are gratitude and affirmation practices?

Gratitude and affirmation practices can improve self-esteem and confidence, support our mental health, improve sleep, reduce negative thought patterns and improve our relationships. Some studies have even reported physical benefits such as a reduction in fatigue and pain. But what actually are gratitude and affirmation practices and what is involved?

Gratitude is quite simply the act of noticing and acknowledging the positive elements within our lives no matter how big or small. There are some great apps available and my favourite is Grateful: A Gratitude Journal. There are some pre-programmed prompts to help you consider the positive things that may have happened or exist around you or you can add your own. Practicing gratitude regularly can help to rewire the brain, helping you to feel a greater sense of contentment with your life as it is right now. It can help you think more constructively and cope better with the challenges life can bring.

Affirmations are positive sentences or statements that you either read or repeat to yourself repeatedly. By doing this regularly you can positively impact your thought processes and begin to believe in the statements you are using. Affirmations can be used in relation to any topic that is relevant to you; whether it’s self-confidence, body image, relationships, parenting, work or something completely different. My favourite app is I am – Daily Affirmations as I can set this to send me reminders in topic areas that are important to me throughout the day.

What’s the downside?

While these practices are hugely powerful, it is important to recognise the challenges people can experience. For me, in the depths of clinical depression, I actually felt significant guilt when trying to start practicing gratitude. Initially I struggled to find anything that I felt grateful for. When I then recognised the long list of things I should feel grateful for but couldn’t I was wracked with guilt and self-loathing. I’ve since spoken to multiple people who have had similar experiences. In a similar way, asking someone in the depths of depression to repeat affirmations such as “I love who I am”, could also trigger further feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

This doesn’t just apply to those struggling with depression, it can apply to anything. It would be counterproductive to ask someone to affirm the health of their body when they are suffering significant pain, or to use certain affirmations for those suffering recent grief.

How can validation and acceptance help?

There is a way though to make gratitude and affirmation practices work for everyone!

Asking yourself to be grateful for, or affirm, your own health and vitality if you are suffering significant pain due to a knee injury is not likely to be helpful. A lot of people would experience feelings of not being understood and they may feel a need to conceal their pain and soldier on. It is more helpful to validate your situation and openly acknowledge the reality of the present. Finding acceptance in the present can help you to process any challenges you face and help you move forward.

More helpful gratitude statements might include, “I am grateful for the opportunity to see a physiotherapist regularly who is helping me to recover”, or “I am grateful for the support my family are giving me”. You may then be able to look at aspects of your life unrelated to the injury that you are grateful for. In the same way, more helpful affirmation statements may be, “I’m committed to nourishing and strengthening my body”, or “I am focusing on actions every day that will support my recovery”. These statements are more realistic, acknowledge and validate the present yet continue to focus on the positives and a way forward.

Reframing gratitude

It is also absolutely fine to just simply not feel grateful for things you feel you should. This is far more common than you might think and the most important thing to remember is to be gentle with yourself. Try using phrases such as, “I recognise I would like to feel grateful for…”, “I would like to grow towards feeling grateful for…”. By taking the first step in acknowledging areas that you would like to feel grateful you are already taking a huge leap towards making these practices successful for you!

You can find out more about The Wellbeing and Wellness Coach on our website

One thought on “Are affirmations and gratitude truly effective?

  1. Struggling to express self affirmation and gratitude I find it helps to share this with others.

    When out walking I often see people collecting litter, mostly these are local residents but sometimes they are council employees. By making a point to thank them when I pass lifts my mood, especially when many people just ignore them.

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