“Another reason that people have difficulty is due to social comparison”, Margaret “Peggy” DeLong and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Another reason that people have difficulty is due to social comparison. When we compare ourselves to others we perceive as having, doing, or being more, we automatically feel “less than” and do not appreciate what we have. This is exacerbated for those who spend a great amount of time on social media, as we typically […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Another reason that people have difficulty is due to social comparison. When we compare ourselves to others we perceive as having, doing, or being more, we automatically feel “less than” and do not appreciate what we have. This is exacerbated for those who spend a great amount of time on social media, as we typically see people’s “highlight reel” on various social media platforms.

Emotional contagion is another phenomenon that interferes with our ability to feel gratitude. We pick up on the emotions of those around us. If you spend a lot of time with a chronic complainer, you will likely pick up on that energy, making it harder for you to see the goodness in your own life.

As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.

What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?

One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Peggy DeLong.

Dr. Peggy DeLong is a psychologist, speaker, and author with a private practice in Long Valley, New Jersey. She specializes in assisting individuals and groups with fostering gratitude and cultivating joy in everyday living, especially through difficult times. She does this through psychotherapy, her on-line monthly membership Feeling Good with Dr. Peggy, on-line courses, speaking engagements, books, and bracelets. She owns Peggy’s Midnight Creations, where she designs inspirational, mental health bracelets for life’s transitions and challenges. When she’s not focused on her businesses, you’ll find Peggy connecting with nature. She’s either spending time with her husband and three children in the mountains while downhill or telemark skiing, hiking, or mountain biking, or watching a sunset from her kayak.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?

For as long as I can remember, I knew that I wanted to work in the mental health field. My father was a psychiatrist, and I was exposed to this wonderful field through him. When I was a teenager, he ran a group for active and impulsive young boys who needed some assistance developing social skills. My father required some help maintaining order in his waiting room as all of the boys arrived, and I kept them engaged with games. My father discouraged me from becoming a psychiatrist, because he knew that doing autopsies and other requirements of medical school were not for me! He was right! So I took an alternative route of earning my doctorate in psychology.

For about 15 years, my private practice was solely dedicated to forensic psychology, specifically conducting child abuse evaluations and testifying in court. After listening to over 4,000 stories of child abuse, my heart could not do the work any longer. I decided to transform my private practice completely and focus on positive psychology and other endeavors that fuel my soul. I made a list of the top 3 things that bring me joy in my professional life, and I worked hard to incorporate them into my private practice: 1) Teaching others about cultivating joy and gratitude, especially through difficult times, 2) making inspirational bracelets for mental health and coping with loss and difficulty, and 3) leading women on group walks in nature.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When I had a shift in my private practice and decided to move away from forensic psychology and focus on positive psychology, I read a great book by Jack Canfield, The Success Principles. This book is filled with nuggets of wisdom for success and fulfillment in both personal and professional endeavors. I followed many suggestions in the book, which ultimately led to me being asked to be a speaker at World Gratitude Summit.

When I received the invitation via email and saw some of the invited speakers, I could not believe my eyes. Guess who I was going to be sharing the “virtual stage” with? You guessed it! Jack Canfield!

Another interesting and wonderful story pertains to my bracelet business. I was struggling to get this new business off the ground, and at one point, questioned whether or not to pursue it any longer. One afternoon, I happened to be driving by a labyrinth. A dear friend had taken me to this labyrinth before, and she guided me through a purposeful exercise. The idea is to begin the labyrinth walk with a question, and that at some point, some wisdom and guidance will be received.

My question was, “Should I continue with my bracelet business that brings me so much joy but is not paying the bills, or should I go back to forensic psychology that is hurting my heart, but pays the bills.” When I make inspirational gemstone bracelets, one of my favorite gemstones to use is rose quartz, known as the “stone of love.”

I walked slowly toward the center of the labyrinth paved with bricks, and nothing was coming to me. No guidance, no wisdom, no messages. I was feeling a twinge of disappointment as I was about to step onto the center brick of the labyrinth. I glanced down and noticed that I could not step directly in the center, as something was there. I looked closely, and there, right smack in the middle of the labyrinth, someone had placed two rose quartz crystals. I could not have received a clearer message to continue with my bracelet making!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “Don’t save gratitude for your good days. Gratitude is truly most powerful on your worst days.” Gratitude has become the focus of my life’s work due to personal experience of coping with tragedy. This quote resonates with me because I discovered the power of gratitude during the worst time of my life.

I was quite an ungrateful teen and young adult. It took my fiancé’s cancer diagnosis and ultimate death 7 months later, followed by my father’s sudden and unexpected death just six weeks after my fiancé’s death, to discover the power of gratitude.

Three months into our engagement, my fiancé was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. Just seven months later, the doctors delivered the awful news that there was nothing left that they could do for him, and that he was going to die. While he was hospitalized those last 42 days of his life, I sat by his bedside. During those quiet special moments when he did not have other visitors, I journaled and drank hazelnut coffee next to him while he slept.

Every day was so unpredictable. I did not know if he would be able to open his eyes and look at me that day. I did not know if he would be able to open his mouth and speak my name that day. I did not know if he would die that day. The unpredictability was nauseating and anxiety-provoking. One thing that was predictable was that I could get a simple cup of hazelnut coffee.

The aroma permeated his hospital room and made it seem less sterile. It reminded me of being home. I found tremendous comfort in its simple predictability. My 26 year old self did not understand why that simple cup of hazelnut coffee was so important to me. Only in hindsight do I understand that what I was doing was practicing gratitude. Gratitude for its comfort. Gratitude for its predictable availability. It has become my mission to help others discover the healing power of gratitude with research-backed methods. It has become my mission to help others discover and feel for themselves that gratitude is truly most powerful on our worst days.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

A book that made a significant impact on my life is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This was the first book that I read after my fiancé and father died. This book resonated with me because Dr. Frankl was able to maintain a positive attitude despite tremendous loss and unspeakable experiences. I thought that if he could do that after experiencing such horror of the Holocaust, then I had no excuse for NOT doing it. He provided me with so much hope, specifically hope for happiness and fulfillment after sorrow. He wrote that one of man’s greatest human freedoms is the power to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. He also wrote about how we can find meaning in life through: 1) our creativity and work, 2) human interaction and experience, and 3) the manner in which we respond to inevitable suffering in our lives. I became determined to find meaning in my own life, and I now do so in these three ways that he outlined. I found meaning in my life through responding to my suffering by telling my story about how I discovered the power of gratitude, and helping others do the same. I am blessed to have created a life where every day, I experience meaning through creativity and my work, and my profession which involves human connection.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! My exciting new project is my recently published book, FEELING Good: 35 Proven Ways to Happiness, Even During Tough Times, and the companion online membership, also called FEELING Good. All my life, people have asked me what I do to be “so happy.” Even after my fiancé and father died, I continued to receive this question. I realized that if I could share my insights and experiences on what I do to be happy, I could provide a valuable service to others in the world.

I learned many of these methods in childhood. I discovered simple things that made me feel good, and I simply kept doing them. These methods helped me cope while my fiancé was sick, after his death, and after my father’s death. These methods help on any day, but are specifically chosen because they are methods that work on our worst days when we have little time, energy, or motivation. They feel good in the moment, and they also serve as health-promoting activities that actually help to minimize or prevent future episodes of depression or anxiety.

I knew that these methods worked for me, and they help my psychotherapy clients. As a psychologist, it is important to me that I teach methods that are backed by research, and I share the relevant research in the book. This helps the reader understand that the method was not just effective for me, and also serves as motivation to engage in the various activities.

The book was ready to be published at the end of February, 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and I edited the entire book. As the premise of my book is that these are methods that work on our most difficult days, it was important to me to make it relevant for these unusual times that we’re living in, and to incorporate stories about how others have used these methods for coping during the pandemic. I teach methods that are effective on our worst days, and for many, the pandemic has been their worst days.

I am grateful to be teaching people simple, doable, research-backed methods for FEELING Good, even on a bad day. That’s when we need these tools the most!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My beautiful mother helped me to get to where I am today. She has always been my greatest supporter and mentor, who has continuously showered me with unconditional love. On the nights when I was nearing exhaustion and needed rest, she slept in the recliner next to my fiancé’s hospital bed, while I slept down the hall on a couch in the lounge. When she was not giving of herself emotionally, she literally gave herself physically by donating her platelets several times.

After my fiancé died, I moved back to my childhood home to be in the comforting and loving presence of my parents. As my father died just six weeks later, my mother and I suddenly found ourselves both widows living together. I had something in common with my mother that I never dreamed of, never wanted to share. I didn’t want it for either one of us! I remember dragging my mother to a bereavement group that I had started attending two weeks after my fiancé died. The group was so helpful to me, and I thought it might help her too. I had to drag her out of the car.

My mother met someone in that bereavement group, and he and my mother soon started dating! My mother found love again, giving me hope that I someday I would too. And I did. She was ready to marry before me, but out of her selflessness, she felt that her daughter should be married first. So I married my husband in 1998, and my mother married her husband in 1999. She was the inspiration I needed to find the courage to love again after loss. I can think of no greater gift.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

Gratitude is being in a state of thankfulness or appreciation for one’s blessings — things that are both tangible and intangible. I particularly like the definition of being in such a state of thankfulness and the resulting good feeling that ensues that it makes one want to return kindness.

Gratitude is a feeling of “enough.” It not only communicates that you already have what you desire, but that you are thankful and appreciative. Gratitude is focusing on what you do have, rather than what you do not have.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

So many people do not experience gratitude for varied reasons. First of all, as human beings, we are hard-wired to think negatively. A study by the National Science Foundation (2005) found that for the average person, 80% of thoughts during the day are negative! Before you have trained your brain to be a more positive thinker, the default mode is to think negatively! It’s not you! It’s your brain!

Our brains also focus on problems! And where a problem is not obvious, we will seek it, and even create it! This interferes with our ability to be grateful. Our brains can be so dumb sometimes, can’t they?

Another reason that people have difficulty is due to social comparison. When we compare ourselves to others we perceive as having, doing, or being more, we automatically feel “less than” and do not appreciate what we have. This is exacerbated for those who spend a great amount of time on social media, as we typically see people’s “highlight reel” on various social media platforms.

Emotional contagion is another phenomenon that interferes with our ability to feel gratitude. We pick up on the emotions of those around us. If you spend a lot of time with a chronic complainer, you will likely pick up on that energy, making it harder for you to see the goodness in your own life.

Gratitude is elusive for those who have difficulty remaining in the present moment. It is really hard to feel grateful if you are too busy looking toward the future and thinking about what you would like but do not have yet. While this may serve as a motivator to get there, it often results in a disconnect to everything you already have to be thankful for. If you are not thankful for what you already have, it is reasonable to assume that you will not be grateful for having more of the same!

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

We see the world based on our perceptions. Our perception is affected by our thinking patterns, and has a direct impact on mood. People who tend to complain will always find something to complain about, and this leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness in life. Another person with the same circumstances can make a conscious choice to focus on the good things to be grateful for, even in difficult and challenging situations. This affects the person’s perception of the world. It is the same world, seen differently by the complainer and the gratitude thinker.

The good news is that anyone can become a more positive thinker! You simply have to have the desire, and make a conscious choice to do so. All it takes is practice. And practice simply means: 1) focused attention, and 2) repetition. Practicing gratitude works like a muscle. The more you practice gratitude, the stronger the muscle becomes. Over the course of time, you are retraining your brain to think more positively. It starts out as a conscious choice, and with focused intention, you form new neural pathways so that you are better able to see the positive in any given situation. Thinking more positively then involves less effort and simply becomes your way of seeing the world!

We all face challenges and loss. No one is immune. A regular practice of gratitude helps to build resilience and move through these difficult times with more ease, and even with joy.

Many people believe that they will be grateful when they are happy. But it truly works the other way around. Feeling grateful creates happiness.

Gratitude is everything. You could have great health, all the money in the world, a coveted job, and a wonderful family. But if you are not grateful for that, what’s the point? It may be helpful to look at gratitude as the key for unlocking the fullness of life.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

In the middle of the night when worries of “what if” keep you awake, gratitude helps quiet your mind and helps you get back to sleep.

When you do not have in life what you would like to have, gratitude for what you do have not only elevates your mood, but brings more of that into your life. That is because the emotional footprint of gratitude is that you already have what you desire, and this says to the universe, “Yes! More of this, please!”

Gratitude helps divert the energy of negative thinking that spirals into anxiety by sending that energy into a new positive direction.

Gratitude helps with depression by elevating mood, which is achieved by focusing on something positive in your life.

On your most difficult day when you do not think that you can bear your emotional pain, gratitude eases that pain.

Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?

I have developed “5 Daily Exercises in Gratitude in Less Than 5 Minutes a Day to Improve Your Life” as a way to practice gratitude that takes you from the minute you wake up, until the minute your head hits the pillow at bedtime. You can take as long as you like with each idea. However, on your busiest day, this need not take more than five minutes!

1. Every day before you get out of bed, say “thank you” out loud.

  • When we say the two words “thank you”, we are priming our brains to be more positive. This is because our whole lives, these words have been associated with positivity. We thank people for nice, positive things, not for crummy, negative things!
  • Keep in mind when you say these two words, you do not even need to be thinking about what you are thankful for. Just focus on saying a heartfelt “thank you”. Your brain will do the rest!
  • Your brain receives a dose of “feel-good” neurotransmitters, and you are setting the stage for your brain to notice all that is good around you.
  • You are beginning your day in the most positive way, and also heightening your level of awareness of all the good things that happen throughout the day.
  • Story — I suggested this idea to a therapy client. She immediately implemented this method the next morning. She texted me to say that instead of rolling over and going on her phone, she sat up in bed, took a few deep breaths, and said “thank you” out loud. She reported that doing this just one time, she noticed a more positive feeling when her feet hit the floor.

2. Set your intention at the beginning of every day to focus on gratitude and being more aware of all that is good around you.

  • When we set our intention, we are activating a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System. This is the part of the brain that works as a filtering system and sorts through all of the millions of pieces of data that bombard our senses every day.
  • Setting our intention to focus on gratitude magnifies our ability to notice and celebrate the good things, and pay less attention to the negative things. Doing so helps the Reticular Activating System do its job.
  • Setting our intention to focus on gratitude does not change the world, but it helps us changes to focus on the positive in our lives and in the world.
  • We see the world in a more positive light. We are better able to see the wonderful things, big and small, and pay less attention to the negative things.
  • Example — You could do this while you are in the shower, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, or drinking your morning beverage. Say to yourself, “I am living a life of abundance. Every day, I notice and appreciate all that is good around me.” This exercise need not take any more time during your morning routine. You can begin this new habit by attaching it to something you already do every morning.

3. Express appreciation for someone in your life every day.

  • Expressing appreciation for people in our lives or their behavior is the easiest way to increase the level of closeness and improve the quality of our relationships.
  • When we express appreciation for another human being, not only are we making another person feel good, but we are experiencing a boost in mood in the process.
  • This works particularly well when we express appreciation for things we take for granted, or for behavior that is expected.
  • This appreciation can be expressed in many different ways — say it in person, write a thank you note, make a phone call, or send an email or text.
  • Story — One of my online program members told me that she and her husband now have an evening ritual where they each share one simple thing that they are grateful for in each other. This is the highlight of her day because of the good feeling that it creates within her when she tells him. She finds herself feeling closer to him. She believes that this is because she is focusing on what she loves about him, rather than what small things previously annoyed her.

4. Use unwanted, “negative” feelings during the day as a trigger to find something to be grateful for, or for a lesson.

  • When we experience feelings that we do not want, such as jealousy, frustration, or anger, we can use that feeling as a trigger to find something positive in a situation.
  • One of our greatest human freedoms is our ability to choose our own thoughts. Our feelings are directly impacted by our thoughts. We can use feelings of anger and frustration as a sign that it is time to look for something positive.
  • Ask yourself, “What good can come out of this situation? What can I learn here? What is something positive that I can find or create?”
  • This helps us to avoid going into a downward spiral of negativity when something goes wrong, and instead send that energy in a positive direction.
  • Story — A student was driving to work after a colleague’s death. Not only was she feeling quite sad, but she found that the more she focused on his death, she was feeling physically ill. She remembered what she learned in my Course in Gratitude. After allowing herself time to feel the grief, she shifted her thoughts to focus on gratitude for the joy and laughs that they shared at work. She then noticed that she was smiling, and that the nauseous feeling went away.

5. Before you fall asleep, think of two experiences you had that day for which you are grateful.

  • Our sleep is affected by what we do and think right before sleep. Thinking about two positive experiences is a wonderful way to end the day, and bring that positivity right with us into sleep.
  • When you do this on a regular basis, you will become more aware of things to be grateful for and pay more attention to them as you go about your day, because you know that when you go to sleep, you are challenging yourself to recall two wonderful experiences.
  • Over the course of time, when done on a regular basis, you are literally rewiring your brain to think more positively. You are training your brain to pay more attention to the positive, and less attention to the negative. This will become habit and involve less conscious effort. It will simply become your way of being in the world. Positive. Appreciative. Grateful.
  • Example — One of my therapy clients decided to incorporate this into her son’s bedtime routine. She views him as somewhat of a grouch, quick to point out faults in himself and others. She thought this would be a good way to help him to be more positive. At first, he was quite skeptical, calling the idea “stupid,” and he refused to participate. So she simply shared with him two things she was grateful for. She always included something about him. To her surprise, he did not protest. He was unwilling to share, but he listened attentively. After about a week, one night as she tucked him in and was about to share her two “gratitude shmatitudes” as he called them, he interrupted her. He impulsively put up his hand toward her mouth as if to quiet her. He said, “No! My turn!” He was only able to say one “gratitude shmatitude,” and she said it was the sweetest words she’s ever heard — “I’m grateful you’re my mommy.” They now do their own version, where one person shares a gratitude idea, and then the other. He insists on going first!

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

A particular practice that we can use when we are feeling really down and vulnerable, or sensitive, is what I call “Gratitude for the Ordinary.” Focusing on something very simple is powerful. You do not need to feel grateful for something monumental in order to benefit from the healing power of gratitude. On the contrary, keeping it simple during these times is just what you need. Focusing on one thing, possibly something you might take for granted under normal circumstances, can help shift your thoughts and energy. This prevents your thoughts from going in a downward spiral, while simultaneously shifting your thoughts in a positive direction. These more positive thoughts will naturally lead to an elevation in mood. Even if it is a slight elevation, that elevation can be celebrated and cherished.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

Two of my favorite podcasts that often mention the power of gratitude are Achieve Your Goals with Hal Elrod and The Science of Happiness podcast. My favorite resource with summaries of evidenced-based practices related to gratitude is The Greater Good Science Center.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Funny you ask, as it has already started! I call it “The FEELING Good Movement.” In the best way I know how, I am bringing the most good to the most amount of people through my book, “FEELING Good: 35 Proven Ways to Happiness, Even During Tough Times,” and the online companion membership program, also called “FEELING Good.” I can only see a limited amount of people in my private practice. The book and online program are a wonderful way for me to reach more people with my feel good message.

The book and online program are all about methods that are free or low cost, accessible, feel good in the moment, have long-term mental health benefits, and are backed by research in psychology and/or brain science. I offer the program for FREE for three months for anyone who purchases the paperback version of the book.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

The best way is through my website — www.drpeggydelong.com. All of my contact information can be found there, as well as articles that I have written related to positive psychology over the past six years. I can be found on Instagram @the.gratitude.psychologist

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

You might also like...


Eileen Szymanski Chen Of Rastaclat: “Family is first, never forget that”

by Jerome Knyszewski

Elizabeth Sandler On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

by Karen Mangia

Scott Miller On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

by Karen Mangia
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.