Gratitude is an emotion similar to appreciation. Research has found neurological reasons why so many people can benefit from this general practice of expressing thanks for our lives, even in times of challenge and change.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word ‘gratia’, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context).
Being more grateful can lead to increased levels of well-being.
8 Reasons to Practise Gratitude
1. Enhanced Well-Being
Expressing your thanks can improve your overall sense of well-being. Grateful people are more agreeable, more open, and less neurotic. Furthermore, gratitude is related inversely to depression, and positively to life satisfaction.
2. Deeper Relationships
People who express their gratitude for each other tend to be more willing to forgive others and less narcissistic.
Giving thanks to those who have helped you strengthens your relationships and promotes relationship formation and maintenance, as well as relationship connection and satisfaction.
3. Improved Optimism
When people are optimistic about their well-being and health, they may be more likely to act in ways that support a healthy lifestyle.
4. Increased Happiness
Grateful thinking promotes the savouring of positive life moments enabling us to extract the maximum possible satisfaction and enjoyment from your current situation. The practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions.
5. Stronger Self Control
Self-Control helps with discipline and focus. Being thankful can provide us the resolve we need to make choices in our lives that serve us, emotionally and physically, in the long run.
6. Better Physical and Mental Health
Research conducted in 2015 showed that patients with heart failure who completed gratitude journals showed reduced inflammation, improved sleep, and better moods; this reduced their symptoms of heart failure after only eight weeks.
7. Lowered Stress Levels
The regions associated with gratitude are part of the neural networks that light up when we socialise and experience pleasure. These regions are also heavily connected to the parts of the brain that control basic emotion regulation, such as heart rate, and are associated with stress relief and thus pain reduction. Feeling grateful and recognising help from others create a more relaxed body state and allow the subsequent benefits of lowered stress to wash over us.
8. Acceptance of Change
When we are comfortable with the way things already are, it can be difficult to accept when things change—let alone feel grateful for that difference. But when we make it a habit to notice the good change brings, we can become more flexible and accepting.
6 Ways to Practise Gratitude
1. Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter or email expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
2. Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
3. Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
4. Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
5. Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
6. Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).
As with anything, ensure your gratitude practise is something you look forward to, and not a chore. Some days finding gratitude will be easy, other days it will be more difficult. Be kind to yourself. It only needs to be a few minutes a day and a few simple actions.
More information about gratitude can be found here:
This article was written by Karen Robinson, our Clinical Director.