How to Practice Gratitude When You're Not Feeling Thankful


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One way to feel more thankful for things is to imagine life without them. Our guest tries a practice for seeing the bright side, even when you feel down.

Episode summary:

We know that gratitude is good for us. But what can we do when we’re struggling to actually feel thankful? Our guest this week is author and podcast producer Stephanie Foo. Foo built a network of close friends around her in California, where she grew up. As a survivor of child abuse and Complex PTSD, her friends in California became her chosen family. And since she’s moved to New York City, she finds herself often pining for the Golden State and the people she loves there. This week, Foo tries a practice in mental subtraction, which gratitude researcher Ernst Bohlmeijer describes as an antidote to taking things for granted. Imagining her life if she didn’t live in New York helps Foo tap into gratitude even in the depths of winter – when she misses California the most. She even discovers her particular skill in getting the benefits of this practice by leaning into one of her PTSD symptoms. Later in the show, Ernst Bohlmeijer breaks down how keeping a gratitude practice can alter the emotions you’re likely to experience in a given day, and maybe even change you as a person.


  1. Take a moment to think about a positive event in your life. It could be a career or educational achievement or a special trip you took.

  2. Imagine yourself back in the time of this event. Think about the circumstances that made it possible. Ponder on the ways in which this event may never have happened and write them down. For example, if you hadn’t learned about a certain job opening at the right moment.

  3. Imagine what your life would be like now if you had not experienced this positive event and all the fruits that came from it.

  4. Remind yourself that this positive event did happen and reflect upon the benefits it has brought you. Allow yourself to feel grateful that things happened as they did.

Find the full Mental Subtraction of Positive Events practice at our Greater Good in Action website:

Today’s guests:

Stephanie Foo is a radio producer and author of the book What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma.

Learn more about Stephanie and her book:

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Ernst Bohlmeijer is a psychology professor who studies gratitude at the University of Twente in The Netherlands.

Learn more about Ernst and his work:

Resources from The Greater Good Science Center:

More Resources for Mental Subtraction of Positive Events:

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