The Thanksgiving Holiday in the USA started as a time to give thanks for survival and a good harvest. So, November is timely to consider how we can all contemplate this concept of giving thanks in our modern life.
It’s the perfect time to consider the mental health benefits of gratitude. Plus how to enhance this state of thinking for the positive effects it bestows on us.
The dictionary definition of gratitude is ‘the feeling of being grateful; a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something what has been done to help you’.
All too often our thoughts dwell on the negative in our lives – problems not resolved, opportunities missed, what ifs, fear of uncertainty, regrets… However there is often good in our lives, things to be thankful for – sometimes we just have to stop and notice.
Research in the psychology and medical faculties has shown the beneficial impact on our physical and mental wellbeing by keeping a positive attitude. (Ref: Harvard Health Publishing)
- Improve physical health – People who exhibit gratitude report fewer aches and pains, a general feeling of health, more regular exercise and less doctor visits than those who don’t.
- Improve emotional health – Grateful people enjoy higher wellbeing and happiness and suffer from reduced symptoms of depression.
- Improve sleep – Practising gratitude regularly can help you sleep longer and better.
- Enhance self-esteem – People who are grateful have increased self-worth, partly due to their ability to appreciate other peoples’ accomplishments.
- Increase mental strength – Grateful people have an advantage in overcoming trauma and enhanced resilience, helping them bounce back from stressful situations.
- Enhance empathy and reduce aggression – Those who show gratitude are less likely to be antagonistic and more likely to behave with sensitivity and empathy.
- Improve our relationships – This is likely because of the effect that being grateful has on how trustworthy, social and appreciative we seem to others.
With all these benefits of practising gratitude, your next question is probably “How do I do it?”
Here are some of the most popular ways to cultivate your own gratitude practice (ref: Gratitude Exercises):
- Journaling – writing down what you feel grateful for is one of the easiest and most effective activities. Reflect on the past day, few days, or week, and remember 3-5 things you are especially grateful for. In this way, you are focusing on all the good things that happened to you in a given time frame. Writing your gratitude journal before you go to bed can actually improve the quality of your sleep. (Ref: Chopra Center)
- Gratitude Jar – Take a jar, or a box, and make it pretty. Every evening, think of 3 things that have happened during your day that you are grateful for. They can be small things, like enjoying a good morning coffee or more significant events. Write each on a small slip of paper and add to the jar. It’s a lovely way to cultivate a practice of expressing thanks. If you are ever feeling down or need a pick-me-up, take a few notes out of the jar to remind yourself what is good in your life.
- Gratitude Amble – If you are going through a tough time, walking with a gratitude focal point can increase your sense of wellbeing. The goal of the gratitude walk is to observe the things you see around you as you walk. Take it all in. Be aware of nature, the colours of the trees, the sounds of the birds and the smell of the foliage. Notice how your feet feel when you step onto the ground. The effects are more powerful when you can enjoy it with your partner or a friend. In this way, you can show them an appreciation for being able to spend time together.
We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Rather than complain about things, take a few moments to focus on all that you have. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.
Do you have a regular gratitude practice?
Are there other gratitude exercises that work for you?