Gratitude refers to being grateful, thankful and appreciative. In the last few years, there has been more and more attention in the media about the benefits of gratitude. Recently, a couple of my clients wanted to know what all the hype surrounding gratitude was, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a little with you about the many benefits associated with gratitude and a bit about how to cultivate your own gratitude practice.
In the last ten years or so, there has been a fair amount of research on gratitude. Studies have clearly demonstrated that gratitude is beneficial on a number of levels and that it can have a positive impact on one’s quality of life. It has been proven to have a positive effect on general well-being and other aspects of mental health and, more recently, an attitude of gratitude has also been found to have a positive effect on physical health. Practicing gratitude is something we can all do; it is simple, doesn’t require any sort of equipment or involve any expense and one can incorporate an attitude of gratitude into their life in little time. Great! What are we waiting for and how do we get started?
Let’s start by examining the benefits of developing an attitude of gratitude. How does gratitude really help?
Recent studies have demonstrated that individuals who are more grateful tend to be in better physical health. More specifically, those who are more grateful are less likely to experience pain, and they are more likely to take better care of their health by exercising regularly and scheduling regular medical check-ups (1, 2). It has also been suggested that a simple gratitude practice such as noting what they are grateful for before bed can help to improve duration and quality of sleep (3, 4) increase energy levels and reduce blood pressure.
Gratitude has also been found to have a positive impact on our general well-being and mental health. Robert Emmons, PhD (recognized as the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and a psychology professor at the University of California) has done a lot of research in this area and his studies have confirmed that gratitude decreases depression (5) and increases overall happiness (6). Studies have also demonstrated that gratitude can help to improve self-esteem (7, 8) and promote resilience and reduce the chances of developing PSTD after experiencing trauma (9).
There are many ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. A popular strategy is to keep a gratitude journal and either start or finish the day by taking note of a few things that you feel grateful for. When people do this systematically, it creates a shift towards a greater awareness and appreciation of the positive things around them. There are also a number of popular gratitude apps such as Gratitude Diary App, Gratitude!, Attitude of gratitude, and Happify, which make keeping a gratitude journal easy and practical. A couple of months ago, my husband and I began using the “5 minute Journal” (10) which is a little more elaborate than a simple gratitude journal, but it includes a daily gratitude list as well as other daily entries that help create more awareness of positives in our lives (and we are both really enjoying using it!).
Other ways to express gratitude might be by sending a thank you note or an email to express thanks to someone who you haven’t had a chance to express thanks to, such as a crossing guard or a bus driver. Studies have shown that this sort of exercise will help increase levels of happiness in the person delivering the thanks and also increases happiness in the person receiving the thanks (11).
For those of you with children, you will be interested to learn that there has been some research on gratitude and children. In fact, studies have found that children who are grateful tend to be happier and express greater life satisfaction (12). Gratitude has also been found to related to greater well-being and less negative affect in early adolescents(13). Among older youth (14-19 years) research has demonstrated that grateful teenagers report greater life satisfaction, are more engaged (both at school and in their extracurricular activities) and perform better at school. They also report less depression and are less materialistic (14).
As a parent of young children, I have found myself feeling frustrated at times thinking that they take things for granted or lack appreciation. I did some reading on fostering gratitude in children and began to try taking a few minutes at the end of the day to ask them what they are grateful for. I usually do this either at dinner as a family or at bedtime when tucking them into bed. I tend to opt for asking this at bedtime because I find that it’s a nice way to connect and share one-on-one with each of my little ones. Doing this encourages us to pause and reflect on our days together and appreciate moments from our day. I’m often really touched by what they come up with, and this has become a precious part of my day, and often something I find myself adding to my own gratitude list. You can also try asking your child to draw something they are grateful for, or to make a gratefulness collage. These are nice options for ways to encourage your child to slow down and take the time to reflect on things they are thankful for. Such practices also offer the opportunity as a parent to model gratefulness by sharing with them what you are grateful for, and it can allow you to learn something from your child.
A nice book to share with young children to help introduce the idea of gratitude is How Full is Your Bucket(15).
I invite you to take a couple of minutes now to think about what you have to be grateful for in your life. I know for myself these days, it’s often something related to my family and friends or the weather that has helped the trees and flowers start to bloom. What are YOU grateful for today? Please share pictures of whatever you are feeling grateful for today on social media (Facebook and Instagram) and don’t forget to tag us at #connetepsychology. We will be grateful to you for sharing!