Gratitude. Now there’s a word that’s getting a serious workout of late in ‘buzzword bingo’. But to truly understand the meaning and the purpose of those cute Instagram posts with the fluffy puppy pictures and inspirational quotes (which we’re obviously big fans of here at 12 Points Psychology), here’s 12 Points you need to know about how and why you can use gratitude exercises to optimise mental health and wellness.
- Gratitude is all about making a meaningful expression of thanks and an active decision to focus on what we have (rather than on what we want or on what others have).
- It is not just focusing on what we have that is better than others, (e.g., there’s nothing wrong with feeling grateful that you have a roof over your head, but it’s not gratitude if you think that roof makes you better than those without a roof).
- Gratitude is an emotion you can develop, nurture and increase, just by shifting your attention to things you are grateful for. That could be as simple as mentally focusing on people and things you are grateful for, or, doing a more formal practice, like journalling, consciously looking for opportunities to say thank you or writing a letter to someone who is important to you.
- Gratitude practices like those described above, can improve your mood and increase the amount of happiness you experience in your day to day life.
- Practicing regular gratitude has been associated with actual physical changes, like reduced levels of inflammatory markers in the blood as well as improvements in relationships and even job satisfaction.
- Being on the lookout during your day for your grateful moments helps keep you focused in the present moment which reduces anxiety and improves attention.
- The more you look for things to be grateful for, the more things you will find, which actually reduces the attention and time spent focusing on negative events, emotions and thoughts.
- Gratitude practice has a cumulative effect – so you definitely need to do it more than once to feel the effects! But the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more benefits you gain.
- Gratitude promotes helping behaviours and compassion (it’s contagious!) so if you start practising, you will be helping to improve the health and well-being of all those around you as well!
- Grateful people have better self-control and are more easily able to delay gratification. Which is very useful if you’re trying to break a bad habit like nail-biting or smoking or introduce a new healthy habit, like drinking water regularly.
- Beware of passive-aggressive gratitude! I.e., “I’m grateful my annoying sibling/co-worker finally shut up”
- Gratitude can be done on your own, but can also be a tool to deepen emotional intimacy and strengthen relationships if you share your gratitude with others (e.g., a partner).
So do some stationary shopping for the perfect journal, download a gratitude tracking app or just take the time to text with a friend, but try and find just one thing per day that makes you feel grateful. I promise it will get easier as your mind gets used to looking for, noticing and acknowledging the positives you already have in your life.
As for me, honestly, today, I’m grateful for this platform I have to spread the word about a ridiculously simple practice that I have found incredibly powerful and positive, both personally and professionally, I hope it will be of benefit to you in some way too.
And if you want to see how I go keeping track of my gratitude this week, just head over to Facebook or Instagram to follow my 7 day gratitude tracking challenge! Fair warning – I’m often very grateful for my dogs – so there will be plenty of posts of sleeping puppy faces!