6 Ways that Practising Gratitude can Improve Your Wellbeing & Mental Health
Updated: Mar 1
Today is World Gratitude Day. The recognition of this day was conceived in the 1960’s by Edna Fuerth Lemle who was involved with working with the UN to try and bring more peace to the world, and authored the book “Gratitude Is—“.
When we express gratitude, which can be by speaking or writing it, we reinforce its importance in our minds and when we express gratitude to, or about, another person it creates connections that weren’t there previously or strengthens ones that are already established.
It’s very easy, when we are on the treadmill of life, to forget the things that we can appreciate in, and about, our lives. Modern society drives us ever forwards, pushing us to achieve more and more - there is always more work to do, more to achieve, more to aspire to - but somehow it neglects to encourage us to pause for a moment and see what we have in front of us right here, right now. It is very easy to forget to pause and reflect on the present moment.
Gratitude isn’t about “looking on the bright side” or trying to be positive – even when we find ourselves in the most dire of positions, where we would struggle to find a positive spin on the situation, it can still be possible to practise gratitude.
Gratitude can be practised in many ways but one of the most popular is to keep a gratitude journal. Those who set aside time for a daily practice, writing down things they feel grateful for often report benefits to their wellbeing – I have had a lot of positive feedback from clients who have found gratitude journaling to be really helpful when they have tried it.
Pausing to reflect on what we are grateful for can relieve the distress accompanying challenging emotions which might be coming up for us, such as anxiety or depression. Reflecting on why we are grateful for the things that we are grateful for and exploring how our minds are responding to things that are coming up for us can help us develop “awareness of mind” which will permeate our lives and may help us get start to get unstuck when our tricky minds get us all caught up in knots about things.
Here are some more reasons why it's a good idea to keep a journal:
1. It can change our outlook. Our journals give us a chance to reflect on everything we're grateful for in life. Writing daily notes of things we're thankful for can help us see things from different perspectives. Our minds have a natural tendency to err towards the negative (see my series of posts on this here) so looking at things from different angles can help us to adopt a more balanced perspective.
● Writing down things we feel grateful for promotes a “gratitude attitude” in ourselves which can also influence those around us.
● Positive things may be floating around in our subconscious, but it is when we write them down that they seem to become more real and believable.
2. It can help improve sleep. Taking a few minutes before bedtime to put down our grateful thoughts can help us to sleep better. Writing things down gives our brain an opportunity to process things in a different way to just thinking about them and can mean that we go to bed with an improved frame of mind.
● Research suggests that writing down what we're thankful for regularly can help increase our serotonin levels, which are influential of the nervous system and affect sleep.
● When we start looking out for things to be grateful for throughout the day -- and then spend time before bed writing them down -- we don't feel as anxious or worried (both enemies of sleep!).
3. It can help us feel happier. Identifying the things that we're grateful for means we are acknowledging the good things in our lives. When you write them down, allow yourself to really relish the feelings of gratitude you're experiencing!
● A happier perspective affects our livea, causing us to build stronger relationships and feel more comfortable and healthier. Studies indicate that people who keep a gratitude journal tend to be more optimistic.
● People who keep a gratitude journal can start to feel more content with their lives than before.
4. It can be a helpful way to reduce stress levels. Grateful people tend to be more optimistic, and optimism encourages us to take better care of ourselves than if we aren't thankful for our own existence. When we take better care of ourselves then this can result in us feeling less stressed.
● Research has shown that people who focus on satisfaction and contentment experience their body countering stress almost automatically.
● The destressing effect can be cumulative - knocking on to subsequent days and helping us to feel improvements in our wellbeing overall; we're more grounded and can face life head-on, no matter what it throws at us.
5. It can help improve self-esteem. When we can see and appreciate that there are good things in our lives in addition to the difficulties and challenges, we develop that “gratitude attitude” and this can help improve our self-esteem and general outlook on life. This is probably because when we deliberately start noticing ways in which other people interact positively with us, we can then start to grow a stronger sense of our own worth.
● In 2014, researchers published a study on gratitude in which they discovered that grateful athletes trusted their teammates more. It turns out that their enhanced self-belief from feelings of gratitude caused them to trust their teammates.
6. It can help improve relationships. When we intentionally notice the positive qualities in those around us we are reminded of the benefits of that relationship and this can help strengthen the connection with that person.
● When we express grateful feelings towards our partner, we are more likely to see them in a more positive light – it has been found that couples who expressly show appreciation for each other feel more committed to each other and the relationship is more likely to last.
● When we express gratitude towards people that we don’t know very well, it demonstrates our openness to the connection and this can lead to a deepening of the friendship.
And so, I challenge you to take five minutes each evening to write down at least three things that make you feel grateful. Commit to trying it for a week and see what happens – let me know in the comments section how you got on…I’ll be really interested to know!
If you're interested in finding out more about how gratitude practice can be helpful, then you might find this podcast by Jim Kwik interesting as it talks about how gratitude can rewire your brain!