Over the last few years you might have noticed gratitude journals popping up in lots of shops. And if you follow any wellbeing experts online or on social media, many are proponents of building a gratitude practice. Yes, being thankful has become fashionable, but it really is more than a wellbeing ‘trend’.
Gratitude, as the name suggests, is about cultivating a sense of being grateful for the little and large things in your life. It’s also about a willingness to show this appreciation. It is a habit, and a muscle, and, yes, a practice. And it does take practise.
It is not about seeing the world as a perfect place and pretending nothing bad happens. And sometimes the joy of imperfection might even be something you could be grateful for.
You might not see yourself as the kind of person who wanders through the world seeing unicorns and rainbows, but whether you are a glass half full or half empty type, adding a little gratitude to your day can be very beneficial.
Why gratitude matters
Gratitude is a great first step towards reframing unhelpful thoughts, particularly if you are a person with a tendency towards negativity.
It certainly doesn’t mean not feeling any negative emotions or experiencing negative thoughts, as these are an important part of being human, but sometimes we can get caught in a negative spiral or depressive thinking.
In fact, gratitude can help with stress management and overall mental wellbeing. It can help build emotional resilience, so can even be an extra support in times of trouble. It’s so important, that gratitude practices have even been used in programmes to support people with depression.
There’s even evidence that gratitude behaviours can change areas of the brain and fire up reward pathways, releasing serotonin and dopamine.
It can also help build a connection with other people, through showing and telling people that you are grateful for them.
How you can develop gratitude
Now you know why gratitude is important, how can you go about practising gratitude?
There’s a lot power in writing down things you are grateful, hence the abundance of journals. However you could start with a very simple of habit of thinking of one thing you’re grateful for as soon as you wake up.
This might be for your comfy bed, a good night’s sleep, someone you’re seeing during the day or even a delicious breakfast you have planned. It really doesn’t have to be anything big (though it might be). When you start doing this regularly, you might even start noticing all those little things that make your life better that previously passed you by.
I personally use to try and think of 3 things I was grateful for in the day just before I went to sleep, which was a really nice way to end the day. As I tend to journal most mornings, I also sometimes jot down a few gratitude observations – especially if I’ve noticed I’m getting a bit too much in my head about work or life, and start losing perspective.
As I mentioned above, you might even like to express your gratitude out loud by telling someone that you’re grateful for something they’ve done – or for them just being around.
And, last but not least, if you meditate, why not trying adding a gratitude meditation to your practice every now and then?
As you can see there are many ways to express and practise gratitude, so if you’d like to give it a go, pick the one that resonates most.
On a personal level, I’ve found practising a little gratitude has helped me be much more aware of when I’m falling into negative spirals. It’s also helped me to be much for grateful for the many, many positive things I already have in my life.
What one thing are you grateful for today?
- Alex Wood et al. The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality 42 (2008) 854–871.
- How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Greater Good Magazine (University of California, Berkeley)
- Feeling Gratitude, Giving Love. Tara Brach