The practice of gratitude might seem a bit like new-age religion. But there are particular scientific benefits in the practice. Studies have shown that people who are generally grateful:
- Have improved mood and stay happier for longer
- Are better able to build connections and feel closer to family and friends
- Find it easier to cope with life’s difficulties and recognise the good things in life
- Have improved physical health and better immunity also.
Generally, we are “hard-wired” to be grateful – by being grateful to others, we build connections. It feels good to give and to receive gratitude. Seligman et al.’s study demonstrated that even writing a letter of gratitude (but not necessarily sending it) leads to improved mood. Of course, being grateful does not mean that your problems will go away – rather, the shift of focus promotes a more optimistic view of life if practiced over time. Like a New Year’s resolution, practicing gratitude can be difficult to remember to do consistently. Try expressing your gratitude in different ways:
- Keep a gratitude journal or app; this can be daily or weekly. Alternatively, keep a photo diary of things to be grateful for (e.g. a beautiful view, a freshly opened flower, or a gift from a friend).
- Give back to others, whether that is giving a gift of appreciation to a friend, or to donate time to a volunteer cause. This builds your own feelings of pleasure from others’ gratitude.
- Pop a note in a jar each time you think of something to be grateful for. You can open the jar and read the notes if you are feeling low.
- Check on your neighbours or family or friends who you haven’t connected with for a while. They will be grateful for a catch up and you will feel good too.
- Share your gratitude with others whether in person or elsewhere. Perhaps upload a positive post to your social media.
- If you are a parent, encourage gratitude in your children. They are often adept at seeing the good in things.
- Keep your gratitude meaningful so that it doesn’t become boring – perhaps choose topics to focus upon. One month you might consider the people you are grateful to have in your life; the next might be related to acts of kindness or things around you. Be specific such as “I am grateful for the lady who let me go first at the check-out, so I could have a longer lunch” or “It was so nice of my friend to drop round with a coffee”.
A habit takes a few weeks to develop. Give your gratitude practice some time and you will hopefully soon start to feel the benefits! Perhaps a New Year’s resolution. 🙂