When we take pleasure in the things that bring us joy, the things that make us laugh, smile, or sigh with heartfelt warmth, that is the simplest form of gratitude.
Gratitude brings many gifts to our lives; which could be beneficial to one or more of emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health and wellbeing. Showing and feeling gratitude can occur at a subconscious level, or may be a mindful act, either way the benefits of raising our inward and outward gratitude are plentiful. In this week’s blog I’ll share how it benefits us (and others), and how to raise your mindful gratitude.
What is Gratitude?
I wonder what gratitude means to you? I think it’s an attitude to life, and is apparent in many ways. Here’s a few examples of what gratitude is for me:
- Gratitude is choosing to seek out the lessons that are helping you to grow, even through the toughest times in your life.
- Gratitude is acknowledging an act of kindness with a thank you.
- Gratitude is being thankful for what you have, not focusing on what you don’t.
- Gratitude comes out in the act of a smile.
- Gratitude is when you’re heart is filled with joy, and you acknowledge that feeling.
- Gratitude is shown with a hug.
- Gratitude is, mindfulness.
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
Whilst it is possible to feel inward gratitude at a subconscious level, without mindfully acknowledging it, the real benefits of gratitude come from a mindful emotional response. Gratitude has an instant personal benefit, and a long term benefit on our health, this is true, but it also has ripple effects outward to our relationships, careers, people around us and the power of attraction to those things that bring us joy.
The less you want, the more you love
Snoopy, by Charles M. Schulz
Gratitude promotes good mental wellbeing: I have worked in the NHS mental health sector for over 11 years, so the work of Robert Emmons, a gratitude researcher, really resonates with me. Emmons has conducted several studies, making a direct link between gratitude and our mental wellbeing. The studies confirmed that gratitude increases happiness, whilst reducing mental health issues such as depression.
Other research has shown that gratitude also helps to reduces stress, and overcome trauma. Indeed, a study in 2003, published in the ‘Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’, found that gratitude played a big part in our ability to build and maintain resilience.
I’m thankful for my struggle, because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strengths.
Gratitude improves our physical wellbeing: According to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences’, gratitude helps to reduce aches and pains. If we are physically well, we are likely to be happier and more receptive to getting involved in outdoor and sports activities, which in turns supports our physical and mental wellbeing, a double whammy. In a study published in ‘Personality and Individual Differences’, it was stated that gratitude for our health and wellbeing promotes healthier choices about the food we eat and the care we take of our bodies.
Gratitude supports good relationships: When we thank people, show our appreciation, that’s like a ‘thank you’ gift to that person. A study in 2014, published in ‘Emotion’, found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to want an ongoing relationship with you. Consider the impact over time on your circle of friends, networks, career and social life. A study in the ‘Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology’, stated that when couples are more grateful toward their partner, the relationship is much healthier and happier.
Gratitude promotes an empathetic heart: It has been written that people who feel grateful experience a higher levels of empathy and compassion, even when others are not particularly kind in return. Studies have shown that in those individuals, the desire to lash out or seek revenge is decreased.
Gratitude soothes us to sleep: A study in the ‘Journal of Psychosomatic Research’ stated how a positive outlook calms the nervous system and thus helps us to get to sleep without bothersome thoughts keeping us awake or waking us up during the night. Good quality sleep has numerous benefits, and it will also help us to maintain a positive outlook, and so a cycle of gratitude and positivity begins.
Getting into Gratitude
Below are three ways you can try out to start harnessing a more grateful approach to life. Not all of these will resonate with you, take what you like, adapt it to your own style if you wish, leave what you don’t.
It would be great to hear what you do to adopt more gratitude into your life, please feel free to comment and share.
Journaling is a great way to be mindful and aware of the things that have happened in your day that you’re grateful for. There are studies to suggest that this is a good way of helping the brain to rewire the way it works. Indeed, there are other wellbeing benefits to gratitude journaling; according to a 2011 study published in ‘Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being’, spending just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed may also help you sleep better, and longer.
Here’s a link to one (of many), gratitude journals by Barrie Davenport and Steve Scott. There’s no affiliation, I’ve simply chosen this one to highlight as it has lots of research and tips about getting into gratitude, the pages are not dated so it doesn’t matter if you miss a day, and the journal has good reviews on Amazon – The 90-Day Gratitude Journal: A Mindful Practice for Lifetime of Happiness
Mindfulness is gratitudes helping hand. At the most basic level, when you catch yourself smiling at something that’s filled your heart with joy, that’s a little bit of gratitude, right there. If you got a sunny day during November, did it make you smile? That’s gratitude. If you got to the train station a little bit late, only to find the train was a little bit late too so you didn’t miss it, how did that make you feel? If you came home after a long day and someone had made dinner, what came into your mind the moment you realised?
Many of us go through life passively, we don’t see or hear so many of the wonderful things going on around us, the things that could bring us joy and make us feel grateful for our time on earth. So I invite you to slow down a little and take notice, use all of your senses to experience life. If you want more mindfulness activities to try check out my blog on The Magic of Mindfulness
Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places, where others see nothing
This is a really simple exercise that will have you focusing on what you’re grateful for in no time at all. Each day mindfully note 5 things you are grateful for and say ‘thank you’, if it’s somebody that’s made you feel thankful, say thank you to them, and watch how that gratitude spreads.
It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another
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