It’s that time of year again—the days are growing shorter, temperatures are dropping, and your car may need a little extra time to warm up every morning. As winter approaches, bringing with it the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it can be challenging for your clients to stay in the present moment and keep the winter blues at bay. It’s the perfect time to remind them that gratitude is an effective grounding tool. Practicing gratitude can decrease stress levels, lower blood pressure, boost overall mood, and create deeper bonds with friends and family. Here are 5 free gratitude exercises to use in your sessions this season.
1. Journal Your Gratitude
Journaling invites your clients to reflect upon all the experiences that sum up parts of their lives thus far, and it can be an incredibly freeing experience, as each person has a unique journey. Your client can think of their journal as a safe place to pull back the curtain and express their thoughts, emotions, moments, and memories. Challenge them this week to write about the following:
- What does compassion mean to you?
- What is more challenging, being compassionate to yourself or to others, and why?
- What does it mean to live a life of gratitude, and are you living it?
Get this free journaling page HERE
For more journaling pages and prompts, check out Life Notes: A Guided Journal
by Theo Koffler.
2. Help Children See Gratitude
There are so many different things to be grateful for! Sometimes, your young clients might need a little help brainstorming before the creative juices start to flow. Have your client think of the good things in their lives and be thankful for the things they have, the people they love, and the things they get to experience. For example:
- I love when my parent or guardian does this: __________.
- I love to do this when I’m not in school: _____________.
- I love my bedroom because: __________.
Get this free worksheet HERE
For more children’s activities to help your young clients in personal growth and the development of social-emotional skills, check out the one-of-a-kind Amazing Me
by Tina Williamson.
3. Model Gratitude as a Parent
Think of a time and place when your client can develop a routine practice to express gratitude, such as when they sit down to eat a family meal or when they help their child get ready at bedtime. Have them share one to three things they are grateful for that happened during the day or in the recent past. Then they should invite their child to do likewise. These can be simple, everyday things that perhaps have some larger significance in life. For example:
- “I’m grateful for our garden. The plants are growing so nicely this year.”
- “I’m grateful for the nice people we have in our life and the conversation I had with Mrs. Garcia in the grocery store today.”
Get this free handout HERE
For more innovative and highly practical therapy tools that will create meaningful change for your young clients and their parents, check out David M. Pratt’s Advanced CBT Toolbox for Depressed, Anxious & Traumatized Youth: Over 150 Worksheets, Handouts & Therapist Tips to Promote Resilience, Positive Emotions & Personal Growth
4. Show Gratitude for Your Partner
Every day this week, have your clients make a list of at least five qualities they are grateful for in their partner. Try to have them come up with something new every day. As this gratitude exercise becomes a habit, your clients’ awareness of what they’re grateful for will increase. If they have trouble coming up with things they appreciate about their partner, remind them to be mindful, which they can do by trying to visualize and/or experience what they are grateful for.
Get this free worksheet HERE
For more partner exercises grounded in cognitive behavioral therapy strategies, check out The CBT Couples Toolbox: Over 45 Exercises to Improve Communication, Navigate Problems and Build Strong Relationships
by John Ludgate, PhD.
5. Meditate on Thankfulness
A nice way to get your clients more in touch with feelings of gratitude is by tapping into their imagery system—that is, taking the time to visualize the various sources of gratitude in their lives. They can do this exercise in session, before bed, or any time that they can be calm and comfortable.
- Start off by having your client take ten easy and gentle breaths, allowing their breath to come in and out through their nostrils. With each passing breath, direct them to feel their bodies slowing down ever so slightly, and their attention becoming more and more connected to the here and now.
- If they notice their minds wandering or their thoughts drifting elsewhere, have them gently return their awareness to their breath.
- When they feel ready, have them take a moment to identify someone or something in their life that they feel particularly thankful for right here and right now. It can be another person, a pet, a recent positive experience they’ve had, or anything else that comes to mind.
- Next, have the client begin to paint in all the little details associated with this source of gratitude. Really take a moment to fully absorb the image and feelings associated with this source of gratitude and allow them to let positive emotions pour over them in this moment.
Get this free handout HERE
For more daily happiness exercises, check out Jonah Paquette’s Happily Even After: Daily Practices to Recover Joy After Hardship, Heartache, and Heartbreak
, available for preorder now and everywhere on December 6, 2022.