Gratitude has become something of a buzzword in the health and wellness community. We often hear it paired with mindfulness, which is related but is its own separate concept.
During a bit of a bump in life, a friend reminded me how easy it is to focus on the negative things happening around us. Instead, we would all do better to focus on being grateful for what we have.
Her reminder wasn’t lost on me, and since then I’ve made a more conscious effort to practice gratitude every day.
Definition of Gratitude
Put simply, gratitude is a positive emotion that means thankfulness and appreciation. Practising gratitude means taking time to notice the good things in our lives that make us feel grateful or fortunate.
Practising gratitude also means being ready and willing to show appreciation and being in a state of mind where we wish to return kindness as well.
Benefits of Practising Gratitude
On its surface, the idea of practising gratitude sounds like a positive thing and that’s because it is. In fact, scientific studies show people who practise gratitude experience greater overall well being and satisfaction in their lives. Gratitude can help people live happier lives by improving their health, relationships and day-to-day experiences.
A 2008 study showed that practising gratitude can boost serotonin and activate our brains to produce dopamine, the feel-good hormone that gives us a sense of pleasure. So the more we think grateful thoughts and practice gratitude, the healthier and happier we will be.
Practising gratitude has other benefits as well, including:
- improved sleep;
- reduced loneliness;
- improved self-esteem; and
- improved resilience
Practising gratitude can also have positive effects on our mental health. Not only does it lower stress, but it can also substantially lower the risk of anxiety, depression, and dependence on substances such as alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.
How to Practise Gratitude
There are many ways to practise gratitude, but finding one that resonates with us is probably most important, especially because we want to find a practice we can stick with.
One simple way to start practising gratitude is to think of 3 things for which we’re grateful. We can incorporate this practice into any time of day, though first thing in the morning and/or before bed are two of the most common times people do this exercise.
For example, we might be grateful for waking up to a morning of no aches or pains, for a freshly brewed cup of coffee, or for a lovely walk with our dog. We may be grateful for a delicious tea, for a child who unexpectedly helped with the dinner dishes, for the love of our partner, or for a job promotion we’ve been working hard to achieve.
The point is that it’s important to notice the things around us, be they big or small, and if we’re feeling grateful for them to acknowledge them. How we do this can also be done in a number of ways.
Some people enjoy keeping a gratitude journal. This can be a small notebook we keep in a special place to jot our thoughts down. It can even be as simple as a running Google Doc we can access from our mobile phones when it’s most convenient. Or, perhaps we wish to design a more creative space in which we capture our thoughts, complete with room for photos, quotes and more.
Another way to capture our thoughts is in a gratitude jar. We can keep a small stack of notepaper nearby and, as we think of things we’re grateful for, write them on a scrap of paper and drop them into the jar. We can even make a ritual of the practice by saving the notes to read aloud at a special time of the year, perhaps with the changing of the seasons or on a family occasion.
We may also choose to share compliments with ourselves and others. We may leave a note on the fridge, for example, that says, ‘Thank you for filling me up with healthy food.’ (Or, alternatively, ‘Thanks for buying that delicious ice cream!’) We can also tell our friends how grateful we are for their ability to make us laugh when we’re feeling down, or our partners what amazing hugs they give.
Finally, we can practise gratitude by taking a gratitude walk. This is a walk we take where we concentrate on thinking about the things in our lives we’re most thankful for, including family, pets, the squirrel that’s just crossed our path, or the beautiful hue of the wildflowers blooming nearby.
Of course, there are other ways to practise gratitude as well. The most important thing is just to get started with something that feels meaningful and is sustainable, as well.
Final Thoughts on Gratitude
It turns out gratitude isn’t just a buzzword, but a powerful emotion we can harness with a bit of time and energy. Like anything worthwhile, it takes patience and practise to create a habit. The good news is this habit is scientifically proven to improve our health and leave us, and those around us, feeling happier and more fulfilled.