Having an attitude of gratitude has been shown in research to have significant positive health effects on mental health and wellbeing. It's termed in different ways; finding the good, counting your blessings, seeing the silver lining. It is not to be confused with ‘positive affirmations’, (which I don't agree with - pretending that things are which they are not - is not helpful and it can in fact worsen your mood). Having gratitude for what is however, is an effective and useful tool to improve mood, decrease anxiety, in some studies has been shown to reduce GP visits, lower blood pressure, improve resilience and well, tends to make us more grateful.
It’s simple and it is powerful. Emmons and McCullough in an article regarding ‘counting blessings’ in 2003 state;
Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.
And in another paper of the same researchers regarding the impact on sleep;
Gratitude predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration.
The Happier Human website has a wonderful summary which lists all things including decreasing depressive symptoms (by a whooping over 30%), increase in exercise(!), less physical pain and an induction of the relaxation response.
What makes it so effective? Getting in the habit of focusing on things to be grateful for, slowly but surely starts to permeate your mind. You actually start to notice and pay attention to things which you are grateful for throughout your day which in turn becomes a habitual way of viewing your world. How this relates to so many physical health improvements is not quite so easy to understand, but the results seem to speak for themselves.
How to do it?
- Select a journal or pad of paper, but one that is going to be kept just for this purpose.
- Label it ‘Gratitude’ or 'Things I am grateful for'.
- Everyday, preferably before you go to bed, sit and list at least three things that you are grateful for.*
- Spend a bit of time on each one. Why you are grateful for these things? How does it make you feel?
- Do this every night for at least three weeks. If you have someone you can share this exercise with - even better.
It's not necessarily an easy task. Sometimes you have to dig a little. Sometimes you might even need to go down the ‘well the car broke down, but I was thankful that someone stopped to help'. Or that ‘it wasn’t raining' when I was stuck with the broken down car.
I go for the very simple; that I felt the sun on my face, noticed the flower that bloomed, the rain watered the garden so I didn't have to. I may have had a delicious meal, a very good coffee, a conversation with a friend or something made me laugh.
(I once had to do this exercise and list 50 things, every day, for three days. Believe you me, after the obvious, you get inventive!)
Other things such as simply writing a thank you note, letting someone know how much you appreciate them also embrace the concept of gratitude. Taking on an attitude of gratitude gets into our very being, assisting us to become more positive, improving our mood. It can extend out and affect our relationships, our work ethic and how much exercise we do. Gratitude has also even been linked to improved responses of our immune function.
For a quick regular gratitude fix - stop at any moment during any time of the day and ask yourself: "What three things am I grateful for right in this moment?" or better yet "What is perfect about my life right now?" After a while, you notice that you will do it naturally. People will think you are a little crazy as you make a comment on the sun or the flower or the bird song – but you can gently smile to yourself, knowing that the attitude of gratitude will make your day.
It's the little things that count.
*The very latest in research suggests to use the gratitude only a few times a week rather than daily - it has a greater impact and is less likely to become a chore.
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