“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is”.
When you reflect over the past few days, how often have you been focused on the negative? Are there challenges going on in your life, in your family, your workplace, or even in the world that you feel consumed by?
When we focus on the negative around us, it’s easy to become bogged down in feelings of sadness, frustration, anxiety, and guilt. How many of your thoughts have been self-critical or envious of others? Are you tuning in to every little ache and pain in your body? Are you feeling especially vulnerable or reactive emotionally? Do you feel like your life is missing something?
These are just a few of the symptoms that your life may be lacking in gratitude.
No matter what, life is going to have its ups and downs. But establishing a regular gratitude practice, you’ll learn how to filter your focus, challenge your perceptions, and better manage your emotional reactions to combat negativity and appreciate the good.
Benefits of gratitude
Gratitude can be defined as a state of appreciation or thankfulness for the people, things and events that are meaningful to you. Researchers have studied gratitude extensively, and its positive influence on wellbeing is clear.
When practised regularly, gratitude has been shown to boost academic performance, create stronger relationships, and improve both mental and physical health.
Here are just a few of its proven benefits:
1. Improved mental health
Gratitude has been shown to protect against the harmful effects of stress, decrease the likelihood of developing depression and PTSD, and even reduce the risk of suicide. Gratitude journaling for even 5 minutes a day can boost long-term happiness, and help us to feel better about ourselves.
2. Better physical health
Studies have shown that the more grateful someone is, the more likely they are to experience good physical health. Gratitude has been linked to lower blood pressure, decreased pain, improved immune function, and reduced inflammation. People who practice gratitude regularly are also more likely to exercise than those who don’t.
3. Improved sleep quality
One study found that gratitude journaling led to more positive thoughts and less negative thoughts before falling asleep. The outcome? Higher levels of gratitude were linked with greater sleep quality and duration, falling asleep easier and a reduction in daytime grogginess.
4. Increased quality and quantity of relationships
It makes sense that grateful people attract more friends — who doesn’t love being around someone who sees the good in everything and everyone? Expressing gratitude has been shown to improve the quality of romantic relationships, friendships, and family relationships.
Grateful people also tend to be more generous, are better able to cope in difficult times, and are more likely to work through interpersonal issues; resulting in strong, trusting relationships.
5. Increased optimism and resilience
When you take the time to appreciate all that you’re grateful for, you experience more positive emotions, are more optimistic, and are happier all around. The more you acknowledge what you’re grateful for today, the easier it is to imagine a future full of things to be grateful for. This mindset creates a more optimistic outlook and reduces feelings of envy towards others.
6. More energy
Due in part to the dopamine rush that comes with expressing gratitude, studies on people who kept gratitude journals showed that they had higher levels of enthusiasm, attentiveness, determination and energy than their peers.
7. Higher levels of self-esteem
When you feel good about your life, it’s easier to feel good about yourself. People who contemplate gratitude experience greater life satisfaction and have higher self-esteem compared to those without a gratitude practice. A gratitude practice trains you to focus on all that you have to offer the world, rather than fixating on the qualities you lack.
How gratitude works on the brain
In a study where participants wrote letters of gratitude to someone, their medial prefrontal cortex showed greater activation in fMRI scans when they experienced gratitude compared to non-letter writers, even months after they had written the letters. This finding suggests that simply expressing gratitude can rewire the brain to make you more sensitive to experiencing gratitude. In short, the more you practice expressing gratitude, the more easily you will find things to be grateful for.
Ways to practice gratitude:
Write down things you appreciate that are specific and personal to you. As little as five minutes a day of journaling has been shown to have long-lasting positive effects on mental wellbeing. If you’re not sure of where to start, begin with the basics: the air in your lungs, a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat, etc.
Once you’ve written something down, spend some time expanding on why you’re grateful for it. Make a routine of it by setting aside a specific time of day that works for you to write. Commit to listing just three items or journaling for a few minutes daily to make this gratitude practice easier to stick to.
If you’d like to create a gratitude practice with kids, gratitude jars are a fun, visual way to do it. Whenever you think of something you appreciate, write it down on a strip of paper and put it in the jar.
It can be an act of kindness you experienced, a person you saw, anything that made you smile. Save them for the end of each month, or make a tradition of reading them out on a holiday each year, like Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve.
Not only does it help others, but volunteering also helps to remind you of the good fortune and abundance in your own life. Studies on volunteering have shown that it can help raise your self-esteem and increase your sense of purpose.
Prayer and meditation
Take time to count your blessings or to mindfully appreciate your surroundings. To do a gratitude meditation, start by spending a few moments focusing on one thing you appreciate.
Take a few deep breaths and use this time to let go of all of your other stresses and worries. Keep bringing your attention to the person or thing you are grateful for. Feel how thinking about it affects your emotions, the sensations in your body, and even your breathing.
You might like to do this meditation in the morning to get in a grateful mindset for the day, or to de-stress before bed.
Remembering to practise gratitude or to journal every day can be tricky. Setting a gratitude ritual makes it easy to integrate a gratitude practice into your routine, no matter what your schedule looks like. This may look like saying grace before dinner every night or just using the time it takes to brush your teeth to think of the highlight of your day.
Better yet, why not turn a negative into a positive? The next time you’re stuck on the phone listening to outdated hold music, try using the time to think of three people you’ve really appreciated this week.
Appreciate the lesson
If you find yourself feeling stressed, upset or embarrassed about something, think about what you can learn from the situation. Do you need to manage time better, think before you speak, or take better care of your health?
Instead of beating yourself up when things go wrong, think about what you have the power to do differently in the future. Then, thank the universe for the lesson, and move on. You can even be grateful for life’s challenges if you learn to view them as gifts of knowledge.
Offer compliments generously. A two-minute thank you note could mean the world to someone. Whether it’s a helpful co-worker, a friendly cashier, a supportive friend, or a teacher who inspired you years ago — reach out! Even just the act of writing letters of gratitude to someone can provide you with many feel-good benefits, but why not give it to them and make their day too?
Today’s action steps
Think of one person you have been grateful for this week.
Write down what they did that you are grateful for, and how they made you feel.
Commit to telling them how grateful you are the next time you see or speak with them. Depending on your relationship with them, you might prefer to write them a thank-you note, send them a text or email letting them know how much you appreciate them, or even write a glowing review of their business online.
Our world-class coaches on Hello Coach can help you develop your daily gratitude practice.
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