“The single best predictor of good relationships and emotional wellbeing is gratitude.”
– Scott Barry Kaufman
In turbulent times when facing a global pandemic, jobs are at risk, there’s talk of a depression and you’re stuck at home wondering when life as we knew it might return, it’s easy to overlook how finding the positives and asking “what’s possible?” can keep you well and mentally strong. This is where gratitude can play a vital role.
Gratitude. It’s defined as the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness.
And gratitude is a powerful weapon. It not only raises spirits, but it also works to keep you physically healthy and boosts mental wellbeing. Its magic being its ability to change your brain.
Gratitude keeps you healthy
Can giving thanks keep the doctor away? Research by the Greater Good Foundation at Berkely suggests yes.
Here, an online gratitude journal at Thnx.org was set up where participants were asked to share what they were thankful for, how often they were thankful and were also offered the possibility of socially sharing their “thnx” via Facebook or Twitter.
In addition, they were also asked to complete surveys to evaluate the impact of gratitude on their happiness, emotional resilience and satisfaction with life.
What they found was:
The greater the number of gratitude experiences per day the greater the positive impact.
More thanks = more positive impact
Overall, expressing gratitude showed statistically greater reported happiness, life satisfaction and resilience to stress, and fewer headaches, less congestion, less stomach pain or sore muscles.
Expressing gratitude means you are more likely to be proactive in taking better care of your physical health, by staying more physically active.
Getting good at showing appreciation for what we have is especially important in determining life satisfaction.
Showing gratitude can win you new friends
It’s that tiny moment when you said thanks to the person holding the door open for you as you navigated your way to the office carrying five cups of take-away coffee.
Or that time when you smiled and said thank you to a colleague who went out of their way to help you with something you were stuck on.
Or when you sent a thank you note to your neighbour for looking after your cat when you were unable to get home one evening.
It’s more than common courtesy, minding your P’s and Q’s was shown in research from UNSW that saying thank you is a signal that you’re a person worth getting to know.
The find-remind-bind theory of gratitude suggests gratitude works to help us to find a new relationship, strengthen and maintain existing connections.
How has gratitude shown up in those you feel closest to?
Gratitude makes you happier
Robert Emmons, Psychology Professor at UC Davis, is a leading expert on gratitude. His research has confirmed that beyond the physical benefits on lowering blood pressure, boosting immune function and improving sleep, it “reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders and is a key resiliency factor in preventing suicide.”
“Gratitude blocks toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, that can destroy our happiness.”
When stuck in negativity, uncertainty and fear, setting the intention every day to show more gratitude is a very useful way to enhance your mental wellbeing.
Doing this can take the form of keeping a gratitude journal, writing down three to five things that you are grateful or people you are grateful to and why.
The more specific the reason given, the greater the positive effect.
Sharing that gratitude with the person you are grateful to either by speaking with them face-to-face, on the phone, Skype or Zoom call or sending them a personalised note specifying the thing or behaviour that prompted you to say thanks benefits you as the giver and makes the receiver feel pretty darn special too. Zing, zing more dopamine cupcakes for all.
The science of gratitude
If you like the stats and facts about the positive effects of gratitude, these should cheer you up.
Gratitude and stress – practising gratitude is associated with 23% lower cortisol levels, 28% reduction in the perception of stress and 16% lower depression in health care workers.
With our health care workers currently on the frontline dealing with Covid-19, every day this is a great reason to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone in health care today, for keeping us safe and helping us to recover.
Gratitude and inflammation – high levels of systemic inflammation in the body is bad news for our health. Showing gratitude has been shown to reduce inflammation biomarkers in those with congestive heart failure.
Gratitude and depression – expressing gratitude using journaling and counting blessings was shown to reduce the risk of depression in those at risk by up to 41% over a six-month period. Writing a letter of gratitude reduced feelings of hopelessness in 88% of inpatients at risk of suicide and increased levels of optimism in 94%.
Seven simple ways to practice gratitude during difficult times
Using gratitude to shift your focus away from negativity and fear towards what is good and greater than ourselves can readily be integrated into your daily activities with little or no cost other than the time set aside to think and commit to the process
- Set the intention to express gratitude as many times as you can as part of your daily routine each day.
- Listen actively to what others are saying. Your attention is a gift and builds connection.
- Show thoughtfulness in your actions and seek ways to brighten someone else’s day
- Be present. Staying in the moment allows you to engage all your senses to give thanks for the good around you. Choose to engage with your positive emotions such as patience, kindness and compassion.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Preferably a real journal that you write in using a pen, as your brain processes your thoughts differently compared to when using a keypad. But if you don’t have access to a journal, keeping a folder of your gratitude notes on your computer, works fine too.
- Write a letter of appreciation.
- Meditate on the good. Tune in with self-awareness and focus out with positive thoughts about those you care for and are grateful to have in your life or community such as your family, friends, colleagues, our leaders and health-care workers
It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
How do you show gratitude in your life?