Gratitude is a familiar buzzword to anyone who’s read a self-help book or two. But when the going gets tough, it may suddenly seem like a silly or ineffectual practise, thoughts like ‘what’s the point? who wants to be a Pollyanna anyway?’ can quickly spring to a negative mind. And even when life’s cruising along fairly well, it may seem more logical to focus on our problems in order to fix them, or pump all our energy into working hard for that big goal we believe is going to make us happy. While there’s nothing wrong with problem-solving or reaching for dreams, we might end up missing or failing to appreciate the things that are already going well if we don’t take the time to acknowledge them – and noticing the beauty already present in our experience is what sweetness of life is all about!
Think about the happiest people you know and the chances are they’re not the ones with the most money in the bank or any of the other trimmings ‘of the perfect life’. Or, watch the award-winning documentary ‘Happy’ on Netflix – some of the people featured have experienced truly traumatic and difficult situations, but have somehow chosen to look at the bright side of life. It’s a conscious choice that anyone can make right now, regardless of what life’s been lobbing their way. Let’s face it, life is never going to be absolutely perfect (perhaps bar a few brief, fleeting moments), so we might as well amp up and enjoy fully what’s great right now by practicing gratitude. As a bonus, it’ll put us on the right mental frequency to keep welcoming more of the good stuff… and we’ll see perhaps Pollyanna was onto something after all.
Sounds good? Read on to find out what studies have to say about grateful people…
1. The countless benefits of gratitude
Studies on gratitude all seem to agree on one thing: it’s really good for us. For starters, people who are thankful have reported experiencing fewer aches and pains and generally feel physically healthier. They also tend to feel happier, have a more hopeful attitude towards life and be more resilient when faced with difficulties, with gratitude acting as a ‘buffer’ in the brain against negative emotions. Grateful people are also more likely to experience better sleep quality and higher self-esteem and act with more empathy in social situations.
And the best news? Despite all its stress-busting, happiness-inducing and relationship-boosting effects, gratitude remains a completely free and an almost deceptively simple practise – perhaps the very reason it’s so often overlooked.
2. Start your gratitude practise today
Make a gratitude journal your bedtime best friend
Practising gratitude can be as simple as writing down three things you appreciate about your life every night before nodding off. Scribble them on a piece of paper and discard, or get yourself a gorgeous notebook and read your entries often – or don’t write down anything at all and the make the list in your head instead. It’s your call! If you struggle to think of anything, start with the small things. Did you feel the sunlight on your face today? Have you recently discovered new music that you really enjoy? Did you share a hug with someone you love? Peak experiences are wonderful, but sustainable happiness is more often about all those little moments, so take time to celebrate them daily.
Get your day off to a great start too by channelling the ‘gratitude good stuff’ first thing in the morning. For example, instead of getting out of bed and thinking about how annoying it is to have chilly feet and how much better you’d feel if you had those gorgeous slippers you saw in Stylist, say a big ‘thanks’ for having a pair of warm socks to put on. (In other words, feel happy first and then go shopping!)
Load up that happiness jar
For a twist on the above, take a leaf from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book (the inspiring author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic) and start your own Happiness Jar. Take a jar (or a bowl, or a box or whatever takes your fancy) and at the end of each day, write down the happiest moment of your day on a piece of paper, fold it and pop it in your jar. For a double dose of happiness, you can read all those little notes again – maybe when the jar gets full, at the end of the year or on your birthday. You’re likely to remember many happy moments you would otherwise have forgotten about!
Go social with your gratitude
If it feels good to you, amplify your gratitude journey further by taking it to social media. Telling the world about what we love, what makes us laugh and what fascinates us can reinforce the appreciation of life even when we’re having a bad day or are going through hardship. We might even inspire someone else along the way, so let your humour shine in witty Tweets, or express yourself through beautiful Instagram photos!
Two little words… big impact
It’s considered good manners, but how often do you say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ that makes the other person feel like you really mean it? People love to know that they’re appreciated and it feels good to appreciate, so everyone’s a winner when we make our gratitude known! And even on those occasions when you can’t reach the person you’re grateful for, bless and thank them anyway, whether in your gratitude journal or in your mind – it’s proven to improve your wellbeing. And don’t forget to thank yourself now and again too… just think, when did you last do that?