This week has brought some harrowing scenes of thousands of people fleeing their homes and country in their battle for safety. Everything they have worked for, their livelihoods, all gone in a flash as the Taliban celebrates Afghanistan Independence Day by claiming to beat the “arrogant of power of the world”. Airports spilling over in fear and I can’t help but to feel a true sense of desperation and compassion for these fellow human being. There are no words to express the emotions reeling inside me, and I have no doubt you feel the same. We are the lucky ones! We have so much to be grateful for, so let’s remind ourselves of this daily.
What exactly is gratitude?
Whilst gratitude can mean different things to different people, Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough define gratitude as a two-step process: 1) “recognising that one has obtained a positive outcome” and 2) “recognising that there is an external source for this positive outcome.”
It is believed that gratitude is much more than just a social construct, but instead is something that is deeply embedded in our evolutionary adaptation. Other social factors such as religion, culture, parenting-styles, cognitive ability, and personality types all influence a person’s ability to express and feel gratitude.
I truly believe that gratitude is something that we can practice and a skill that we can master and improve on. This is one of the reasons I encourage my clients to get into the habit of committing to a daily gratitude practice.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
Research suggests that gratitude may be associated with many different health benefits. One functional resonance imaging (fMRI) study found that people who frequently expressed gratitude, had more grey matter in their right inferior temporal cortex. This is an area that has been linked to interpreting other people’s intentions.
Another study found that people who felt appreciated (an emotion related to gratitude) had better heart rate variability, an indicator of good heart health.
A longitudinal study called the Gratitude Research in Acute Coronary Events (GRACE) found that higher levels of gratitude were associated with lower levels of inflammation and improved blood vessel functioning.
Another longitudinal study of patients with inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis saw fewer symptoms of depression in those with a high trait for gratitude.
Various other studies have found that being grateful on a regular basis could lead to improvements in:
- Chronic illness
- Blood sugar control
- Psychological wellbeing
- Protection against burnout
Broadening our perspective to see the positive.
Gratitude steers you away from toxic, negative emotions, which enables you to be more positive and in turn encourages you to be patient, kind and compassionate. Gratitude motivates you to be spend more time on self-improvement and broadens a person’s mode of thinking. It also creates an environment where you can build better and stronger relationships with yourself and those around you. It can help you to increase self-esteem as the positive effects of being grateful, increases the need to be generous, which in turn leads to a higher level of psychological wellbeing.
How can you be more grateful?
Emmons and McCullough found that when under-graduate students wrote down five things, they were grateful for weekly for a 10-week period, they reported increased exercise activity and fewer physical complaints than those participants who logged down five hassles or five daily events. Other studies with shorter durations (2-weeks), did not report similar results.
In my experience, I have found that adopting a daily gratitude practice truly alters your physical and mental wellbeing. I personally experienced improvements in sleep, exercise tolerance, pain, digestion, inflammation, and an overall improvement in happiness.
The next step.
Invest in a blank notebook. Place it next to your bed and every night before you go to bed, write down three things that you are grateful for that day. Try and look for different things each day. When you write them down, really connect with the emotion and feel the gratitude, appreciation, and love. Don’t rush the process but do this exercise mindfully daily for at least 4-6 weeks and notice how this makes you feel.
You may notice subtle shifts in your mood, positivity, energy, sleep and increased tolerance to those around you. Whatever you notice, be grateful for this simple, yet incredibly powerful practice and just like brushing your teeth, let it become a firm daily habit.
I would love to hear your feedback, so you can send me your views by email or tag me on social media.