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In Gratitude

Gratitude

what is gratitude and how it can help your mental health

Gratitude is one of the simplest ways that you can instil a positive mindset. To express gratitude for everything that happens to you, even when bad situations come up, allows you to change and grow mentally and emotionally.

To practice gratitude is the state of being grateful: thankfulness. What does this mean in terms of our lives?  Essentially this means that when we look at life as an opportunity to grow in love and learn about opening our hearts with love, we see the world from a place of healing and peace.  When we look at the world as a place of pain and suffering that is also what we see. Pain and suffering actually constrict our hearts and affects our physical and mental health.

Expressing Gratitude is a relatively simple practice. Saying ‘thank you’ is one of the most common phrases we use every day for anyone who gives us a helping hand. We’ve been brought up on the belief that to say ‘thank you’ is simply being polite and courteous. But practicing gratitude goes much deeper than that. It can better your emotional wellness and allow a greater sense of self-fulfilment.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” 

Melody Beattie

Why Show Gratitude?

We may feel grateful for things we have in our lives and good deeds done in our favour, but we also need to think about what means to express gratitude as part of a daily practice. When it comes to things we say and do, no matter how big or small, many of us like to know that we have left a positive change in the lives of others. But sometimes, signs of a positive impact aren’t always the most visible, so we need to know about the difference that we are making in each other’s lives.

Morality and gratitude are not often paired together. But frequently practising gratitude reflects positively on one’s sense of morality. This was most prominently demonstrated in a 2018 Positive Psychology Study found in the British Psychology Society Journal, stating that one may be more inclined to provide help and support because of a concern for others around you. The mental health study found that not only do you feel genuinely happy for others, but this practice of positive psychology means you are less inclined to fall victim to negative emotions such as envy and resentment.

Gratitude Starts At Home

Family homes are one of the best environments for gratitude to flourish and enrich people. As children, our parents and our families are responsible for giving us those first introductions into life and setting us up to become the person we’re meant to be. But at the same time, as we become adults and start forging our own paths, it’s easy for us to lose contact with one another and a noticeable distance growing between each other. But if we can find a way to express gratitude to someone or something on a regular basis, letting them know that they are still in our hearts, then not even distance can weaken your relationships.

From the perspective of the parents, it is important to be able to instil in children the principles of gratitude, to be able to help them appreciate the things in life that come their way – such as everything their parents do for them and how to forge meaningful relationships founded on positive emotions. There will be moments in life where your children will struggle through difficult times, where circumstances threaten to overwhelm them. Teaching them to maintain a gratitude practice will not only allow them to develop resilience through these difficult times but also help them develop a better mindset to find a way forward.

Jill Leibowitz, Psy.D, once wrote that children will experience negative emotions throughout everyday life and that we shouldn’t deny them those feelings. In fact, children will only feel inclined to relinquish said negative emotions once they have been acknowledged. Then they can move onto more positive emotions.

Different Types of Gratitude

If you want to learn how to practice gratitude and the benefits of expressing gratitude, then here are the best ways to learn how to be more grateful every single day.

1. Gratitude As A Way of Life

How many of us live our lives being grateful for the many blessings we have? How many times a day do we say ‘thank you’? When was the last time you said ‘thank you’ to yourself for creating this wondrous being that you are? By expressing gratitude towards ourselves, we increase positive emotions.

This may sound obvious, but one of the best ways to ensure that you feel more grateful is to express gratitude every day. Appreciate everything on a day to day basis. Of course, it makes sense to appreciate the big things, but it is much harder to feel grateful for the smaller things, those that you may not even notice. Try your best to apply gratitude to absolutely everything that you have in your life. Not only will this ensure that you are practising gratitude but will also help you to stop living life in the fast lane.

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.”

Henry Ward Beecher

What would your day look like if you lived your life as if everything was a gift to you?  How would you start the day if the first thing you did was to be thankful for the gift of life? 

Black Elk, a Native American visionary spoke of his habit of greeting each morning by stepping outside, letting his bare feet touch the wet grass literally reconnecting with the earth, and singing a prayer of gratitude for the day’s arrival.

2. Gratitude For The Negative

There are times in our lives when we have to go through something which is negative, or that is a challenge to us. You might not think that these are good, especially at the time, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be grateful for them. Grateful people are thankful for the challenge they have faced and how it has helped them to change and grow their positive emotions towards themselves and others. Using this positive psychology method is a great way that gratitude helps with emotional intelligence.

3. Gratitude And Mindfulness

Have you heard about mindfulness? The practice of making sure that you are in the present, not worrying about everything else that is going on around you. Mindfulness. Out of respect of the Heartfulness Organisation, rather than use ‘Heartfulness’, I use the term ‘being heartful’. So why not use the term Mindfulness. Out of respect of the Heartfulness Organisation, rather than use ‘Heartfulness’, I use the term ‘being heartful’. So why not use the term Mindfulness and gratitude are connected as, when you take the time to focus on how you feel and what you are experiencing at that moment, it will teach you to be appreciative of your life as it is.

4. Keep a Gratitude Journal

If you think that practicing gratitude is something that is going to be hard for you to do on a regular basis then you might want to keep a gratitude journal. The idea of these is that they encourage you to write down the things that you are grateful for each and every day. After a week or two, filling this out will become the norm and you may even find that you spot things you are grateful for without even looking. Find out more about How to Journal, you’ll gain access to a step-by-step guide for total beginners and a practical journaling guide that you download and use right away. Plus a few hacks to get journaling for mental health here.

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

5. Being of Service

Another part of gratitude is the ability to give back to others around you. The best way to do this is to offer up your time and volunteer. Think about a cause, charity or organisation that you are keen to support and then offer your time to them. Not only will they be grateful for the support, but you will also feel much happier in yourself too. It is a definite win-win situation.

Being grateful is something that we can all do. It might be hard to start with, but with time and regular practice, it will feel natural and you will notice that you feel a whole lot more positive about your life and those around you. The benefits of gratitude may lead to a range of good things entering your life, a positive mindset is the first step to living heartful.

6. Count Your Blessings

As noted by Harvard Health Publishing, it would be useful to sit down at least once a week and think of three to five things that you are grateful for, during which you need to be specific about the sensations you are experiencing during those times, promoting your own spatial awareness as you do so and gifting you a greater sense of life satisfaction.

7. Giving Verbal Thanks

It’s very common to hear the words ‘thank you’, but it’s not just about the words themselves, but it can also be about telling somebody why you are grateful i.e ‘thank you for helping me with my shopping’ or ‘thank you for offering me emotional support.’

8. Being Thankful For The World Around Us

Sometimes, we get so caught up with the things going on in our own little worlds, that we seldom find the time to take in our surroundings, like nature and the wilderness, taking in the trees and flowers, especially those of us who are glued to our tablets and phones. This is also utilised as one of many constructive mindfulness meditations that bring about emotional tranquillity.

9. Social Interaction

People come in and out of the various stages of our lives, childhood, school, university, employment and the times when you will start a family of your own. It’s alarming how easy it is to lose contact with someone; to have them slowly phase out of your life and disappear completely, before you know it, your interactions and relationship is a thing of the past. But it doesn’t need to be like that. You can always make a phone call to people. And thanks to the likes of social media, it is so much easier to maintain contact with one another. In the cases of loved ones, they will be grateful for the contact you maintain with them, and if it’s someone who you have not seen or spoken to in years, such as a friend from school, you may find yourself revisiting all the positive feelings you forged when you first made that connection.

10. Gratitude Exercises

When you are part of a family, you often have several reminders, such as shopping lists, who is doing which chores, but gratitude jars or gratitude board are perhaps not a concept frequently practised, at least not as much as they should be. One way of practising things is for family members to write on a small piece of paper something that they are grateful for and then place it in the jar. And then, at a certain point in the year – possibly a celebratory period such as the New Year, the family would spill open the contents of the jar and go through all the things that they are grateful for. You can also do this by writing on a gratitude board or by writing a letter of gratitude to someone or a gratitude list to be read at a later date.

The Gratitude Habit

Gratitude practice needs to be a recurring one in order to have the necessary emotional effect. So, you have to make sure that each week, you take note of something you are grateful for, or that there is someone you are grateful to. It may seem like a chore to some, finding something or even three things to be grateful for every day or week, especially if you’ve previously struggled with a melancholy mindset before. But the more you practice it, the easier it gets, and the more positive you feel because of it.

The Benefits of Gratitude

Getting the right intake of gratitude has been proven to do scientific wonders for your mental health. Robert Emmons is one of the leading researchers in gratitude, going on to attain the title of professor of psychology at UC Davis. Over the course of his career, he has overseen many studies exploring the benefits of gratitude, and his work has revealed that gratitude can block negative and toxic emotions like envy, resentment and regret, and people who practise gratitude regularly are more resilient when it comes to handling stressful situations.

Physically And Mentally Healthier

The health benefits of practising gratitude are not just mental. Your physical health will gradually improve with the right application of gratitude. There have been numerous studies over the years into the patterns between gratitude and physical health. Back in 1977, R.W. Shipon found that individuals who ‘counted their blessings’ at least once a week benefited from decreased blood pressure. Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough would later discover that people who practised gratitude over the course of eleven weeks are better prepared for physical exercise and practice it more frequently.

Improved Sleeping Patterns

The human body needs up to eight hours of sleep every night, but it can be quite evasive and the lack of sleep can hinder your day. In March 2015, a study was published in the Journal of Health Psychology. The study took its participants on a two-week gratitude intervention, which led to both reduced blood pressure and improved sleeping pattern.

Increased Resilience

When going through a traumatic event or a family tragedy, it is easy to assume that we will never feel grateful for anything else, or scorn for the hand life has dealt us. A shining example would be Canadian author Kelly Buckley, who suffered one of the worst pains imaginable; the loss of her son at 23-years old. She would channel this grief into finding gratitude in the little things in life, past and present, detailed in her book Gratitude in Grief, as well as her online communities Just One Little Thing and Strong Wise Women, which focus on being thankful for the little things in life and supporting women coping with loss.

Improved Relationships

No man is an island, and sometimes, the most important things we find in life are the connections we forge with other people. This has been proven in the field of academia, one key example being a 2014 study published in the journal Emotion. The study revealed that thanking a new acquaintance made them more likely to seek out an ongoing relationship.

Life offers much to be grateful for, even though it throws many obstacles in our direction. In recent years, both the world and individual people have found themselves tested in various ways, which means it is even more difficult for us to look at the world and find things to be grateful for. But if you can implement these practices in your daily life, frequently flex those gratitude muscles, the positives of life will shine through and you will find yourself always able to fall back on a healthy and grateful mindset. And of course, the world is a much better place to be when populated with grateful people who will support one another.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash