The Attitude of Gratitude: why giving thanks is good for us
Today I’m talking about gratitude – something that I practice regularly and especially during stressful and difficult times, as a way to support my mental health.
You may think of gratitude as one of those ‘fluffy’ buzzwords. It links with wider self-care activities – another buzzword many people think of as nothing more than a hashtag on Instagram.
However, self-care is any activity that we do deliberately to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. And in that sense, it’s incredibly important and plays a huge part in enhancing our resilience.
It’s safe to say that most people, if not all, are working towards happiness. Job satisfaction, a loving family, healthy and productive relationships, inner peace, freedom and adventure – whatever happiness looks like to them. However, in this indefinite pursuit of happiness, how often do we spare a minute to be genuinely thankful for what we already have?
What does practising gratitude mean?
In its simplest form, gratitude refers to a ‘state of thankfulness’ or a ‘state of being grateful’. In positive psychology, gratitude is a way of acknowledging the good things of life. Thanking others, thanking ourselves, Mother Nature, or indeed a higher power – gratitude can helps us see things clearly, think in a more positive way, and enlighten the mind.
How can practising gratitude improve your mental health?
Appreciating what you have can have a healing effect, and can allow you to experience less frustration, envy, and regret. Personally, I’m somebody who experiences frequent imposter syndrome. Not feeling quite good enough is something I have to manage daily.
However, my gratitude practice helps. It forces me to reflect upon my mood, my relationships, my accomplishments – and clarify my priorities. What have I achieved so far that allows me to feel good right now? What am I thankful to have experienced? What everyday things do I have access to that I shouldn’t take for granted?
There’s no denying that gratitude in all forms is associated with happiness. Whether we say ‘thank you’ to someone or receive the same from others, we feel satisfied. Neural mechanisms that are responsible for feelings of gratitude have grabbed attention of researchers for years. Some studies have shown that when we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin – two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can strengthen these neural pathways until it becomes a more natural state of being.
There’s also research that suggests gratitude can counteract depression, as well as support your physical health. The jury is still out on those studies – please do take them with a pinch of salt – practicing gratitude is certainly not the be all and end all of life satisfaction. However, I’ve found that it’s one method that allows me to appreciate life as I know it – and has been especially valuable to me at the moment.
Easy ways to practice gratitude
Write down what you’re grateful for every day
Disclaimer: I’ve always been a big fan of the journal and getting my thoughts and feelings out of my head and onto paper. Your journal doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive – it just has to be yours. You’ll invest more of your time and energy into something when you feel a connection to it.
Find the right notepad or book that compels you to use it every day, and then keep it somewhere you typically frequent – perhaps on your nightstand so you’ll see it before you go to sleep or when you wake up each morning.
Try and keep things old school with your gratitude journal. I’ve found that there’s something about the kinetic process of writing it down by hand that allows me to be a bit more aware and thoughtful. However, a gratitude list should be something you want to do, not a chore. So if typing things up on your computer helps you maintain the practice then do it! Don’t give up all together if you feel your habit slipping – switch your approach instead.
A good way to build gratitude is to try to notice and appreciate nature whenever you can.
Even if you don’t like in the countryside, you can still appreciate a warm day, a beautiful sunset, or even just getting home before it rains!
Find the positives in challenges
This is one of the hardest things to do, especially if you’ve had a tough day at work or argued with someone close to you. But taking some time to think of a positive, whether it be the chance to learn a new skill, prove yourself at work, or strengthen your relationships, there’s always something you can find in any challenge or struggle that, in a way, you can be grateful for.
Take time for yourself
Even if it’s just for five minutes a day, always try to take some time for yourself and the things you love. This time can be spent doing whatever you want: meditating, reading a book, watching your favourite show, exercising, or just sitting on the sofa not doing anything!
Think of 3 things you’re grateful for
At the end of every day when it’s time to write what you’re grateful for in your journal, aim for at least three things. Sometimes you’ll approach your list feeling rubbish, and even the idea of being thankful will seem ridiculous. But even when you’re having a really difficult or stressful day, there will still three things you can think of that you’re grateful for, even if they’re little things: a nice chat you had with someone at work, the sunshine, a nice meal, it really can be anything.
After a month of doing this every day, you might find your general outlook has improved! Of course, when practising gratitude there will still things that you aren’t grateful for, things that annoy you, days where you’re late for work, times when you’re stressed, moments when life is hard. Practising gratitude is about focusing on everything else, the things that make you happy, the things that make life worth living.
By Amy Woodward
Posted on: 18th June 2020