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5 Ways You're Practicing Gratitude Wrong

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Photo: Nomad / Getty Images

It's Thanksgiving, which means you're likely thinking about—well—what you're thankful for. And that's a good thing. After all, you're likely familiar with the many widespread benefits of gratitude: The emotion can make you happier, strengthen your relationships, help you sleep better, and boost your energy levels.

That's part of the reason so many people practice gratitude, writing in a gratitude journal or expressing it to friends IRL or on social media. Another reason: "Gratitude is intuitive and it makes you feel good immediately," says Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., founder of the Berkeley Well-Being Institute.

Problem is, experts say we don't always get gratitude quite right. "In this culture, we tend to approach gratitude as a mechanism for improving our own happiness and well-being," says Davis. "But the benefits of gratitude have a lot to do with how they strengthen relationships."

Here, five mistakes you could be making when it comes to feeling #blessed, plus what to do to turn things around.

You don't speak up.

Maybe you think you'll feel awkward if you tell your coworker how much you appreciated her standing up for you in that meeting, or you think it would be weird to thank your sister for *always* being there when you call. Stop! People significantly underestimate the positive impact that expressing gratitude will have on both themselves and the other person, according to research out of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In fact, that's what keeps many people from expressing the emotion in the first place, when the reality is that the research found that expressing gratitude to someone improved well-being for both parties.

You're just going through the motions.

Maybe you feel like you *should* write in a gratitude journal because your Instagram feed is trying to sell them to you or because your favorite blog preached their powers. Not so fast. "With gratitude, we need to be really genuine or sincere whether it's for things or people," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of psychology at the University of California Riverside. "If you're just going through the motions, it won't have an effect." (Related: Why I Ask My Nutrition Clients to Keep a Gratitude Journal Instead of a Food Journal

Just as there are plenty of different ways we experience gratitude (we see examples of it in day-to-day life, we read about it, we hear about it), there are tons of ways to practice gratitude, too. Find what works for you. For example, Davis says that a collection of gratitude images might resonate more with some people (think: a collage or board). Or maybe you'd rather make a phone call.

Just make sure to change it up every now and then. "Whatever you can do to activate more regions of your brain associated with your sense of gratitude, the better," says Davis.

You give in to the #blessed phenomenon.

Ever post to social media about how grateful you are for your friends, your husband, or that awesome trip you were able to go on? Posts like these can wind up making other people feeling envious and resentful rather than connected to you, says Davis. (And that's the exact opposite of what gratitude should do.)

"I think the best approach is to express gratitude one-on-one," says Davis. "Instead of showing other people what you're grateful for, tell them that you're grateful for them." That's a big leap and it might feel totally different than the #blessed or #grateful hashtags that circulate the internet. But the idea is that even a DM to a girlfriend you're super appreciative for will likely bring the two of you closer and be more impactful than a public post to cyberspace about how thankful you are for your friends. (FYI, Instagram Is the Worst Social Media Platform for Your Mental Health

You think you have to practice it all the time.

"People who express gratitude once a week become happier, on average, as opposed to people who do it three times a week," says Lyubomirsky. But your best bet is to find the optimal dosage for you. For some people, that might be once a week; for others, it might be every day. Play around with how often you express the emotion. What feels good? (Related: The Simple Gratitude Practice You Should Do Every Day

You give up because it feels uncomfortable.

"Talking to someone about gratitude doesn't always feel good," says Lyubomirsky. "It can feel unpleasant. You might feel humble, embarrassed, or indebted to someone." That's not necessarily a bad thing though, she says. "Even when it feels unpleasant, awkward, or uncomfortable, it can move you to be a better person." After all, she says: "Connection is when you truly acknowledge success is not all due to you but due to other people, too."

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