I’ve been reading in lots of places recently about the benefits of being grateful.
The practice can take many forms, but a common format is to record daily what we are grateful for. These might be things, people, circumstances – anything that brings benefit to us in some way. And the more we look for things that we are grateful for, generally, the more we find.
It’s a great tool, as gratitude breeds more gratitude and is an effective antidote to the negative thinking that we can so easily find ourselves in. This is explainable by the inherent negativity bias of the human brain and I’ve referenced an article by Rick Hanson below which explores this further(1).
So it kind of seems logical that the practice of gratitude would be helpful in improving our mental health, right?
And in fact, this seems to be the case. I’ve referenced below a study from the Department of Counselling and Educational Psychology, Indiana which looked at college students who were seeking mental health counselling.
They were randomized into three groups. All students received counselling, but one group was instructed to write regular gratitude letters to other people and the other group was instructed to write about their thoughts and feelings in regards to negative experiences. Compared to students who received counselling or wrote about negative experiences, those who wrote gratitude letters, reported significantly better mental health at four and 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended. There’s an interesting discussion as to why gratitude was beneficial and I’d really encourage you to read the article to find out more (2).
So how do we practice gratitude? Well there are loads of different ways and the best thing is to find a way that works for you and to do it daily. Some people buy a nice notebook and start with writing down three things in the morning and perhaps three things in the evening when they review the day before bed. This helps people to sleep better as well. I’ve been practicing gratitude regularly for around six months and I use an app called Five Minute Journal which is a paid app (£4.99) which I love for various reasons, one being that it allows you to take pictures and embed them within the narrative. There is a free app called “Three Good Things” as well. If you don’t fancy using an app, then the notes section on a smart phone will do just as well.
The key seems to be in finding new and different experiences daily to be grateful for and really pushing yourself to do this. As you think about these experiences, immerse yourself in the feelings of gratitude they produce. They don’t have to be “big flashy” experiences, they can be small things as well.
Most things in life have multiple perspectives and this search for the many things we have to be grateful for, changes our outlook and perspective. Like everything, this is a skill and the more it is practiced, the better the brain becomes at doing it. Try it for yourself and notice the effect that it has on your life.