Gratitude: What is it really about?

Sep 21, 2016 | Well-being

Gratitude. What is it really about?

It is an area that is being talked about more and more, in loads of different arenas. Well-being, business, parenting, fitness, law of attraction to name a few. More and more public figures are recognising the importance of gratitude in their well being and succcess, such as Oprah who is a big advocate for daily gratitude practice.

“The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateul for what you have right now” (Oprah Winfrey)

I practice it myself. I recommend it to my clients. I know it works and see it working. But rather than just saying “trust me, it’s really powerful” and referring to you to popular sources, I thought I’d put my psychology hat on and share a bit about why you should listen to all this hype.

Does it really work?

There is an ever increasing body of research to evidence the value of gratitude (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). It is widely recognised that it enhances our well-being, and self-reported measures of happiness. Both of which are linked to longer life expectancy. It is also shown to be an effective intervention for those with depressive symptoms.

“It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well-being, and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation. Additionally, gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.” (Emmons & Stern, 2013)

There is also evidence that after practicing gratitude for a short-time, it can make long lasting changes to particular areas of the brain. It is effectively telling your brain where to pay attention to (Fletcher, 2015).

As well as knowing that it does work, it is also important to note its limitations. Research is now starting to look into when gratitude doesn’t work effectively, such as certain personality traits or mental health symptoms. Early results indicate that people exhibiting narcissistic and cynical personality traits are less likely to be able to successfully practice gratitude, and experience any benefit from it. (Solom et al, 2016). This is a worrying prospect, when it has been cited that narcissm levels have been increasing in the past 20 years (Twenge, 2013). Does this mean that levels of gratitude are reducing?

So, how can I start practising gratitude?

Below are some suggested ways to start getting more gratitude into your life:

  • Daily gratitude journal. This is as it says, a place to write down your things for each day. It is often cited to do 3 or 5 things per day. I’m going to be completely honest here, and say that I have tried to do a daily gratitude journal, but it just doesn’t work for me. I take time each day to acknowledge the things I’m grateful for. And especially when I have been faced with challenges. For me it is part of my checking in with myself and my reaction to things, by putting it into context. However, to write it all down every day isn’t achievable. This is why in my Stop the Flitter Diary, that I have designed, I have a weekly space to record bits.
  • Gratitude Stone. You can use any object as a physical reminder, it could be a pebble from a walk on a beach, a crystal that has relevant properties for you! or anything else that will work for you. Place it somewhere that you will see or feel on a daily basis.Mine is a purple butterfly that I was given by a friend a few years ago. When I see it, I take a moment to reflect on things and be grateful.
  • Gratitude/Happiness Jar. Decorate a jar, or use a nice container, and place it next to your bed, or somewhere you will see it each day, and we write out the gratitudes onto little bits of card or paper and place in the jar. It is lovely to then take these all out and look through them at the end of the year.
  • Saying thank you – whether this is saying thank you to the person that held the door open to you, or gave way to you. Genuinely thanking people in your life for things that you appreciate. Lets be honest, it feels great to receive a nice card in the post from a family member or friend, just because.

Play around with these things, see what works best for you. You can use a combination of all of the above. Just take the time to celebrate and appreciate the things that make your life that bit better.

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