Over the last few years as I worked hard on ways to increase my confidence, I undertook a gratitude practice. The results have been amazing.
What is gratitude? Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
It goes beyond the cursory 'thank you' and forms part of your belief system by which to live your life.
Why is gratitude important? Gratitude is important because it has the power to:
- Change your outlook on life
- Create well-being, and
- Improve confidence
Saying 'thank you' does provide us with a good old boost of the feel good factor. It also has a number of other less obvious benefits. To discover more read my article on Growing Up With Good Manners: Still Valuable Today.
But, a deeper appreciation produces longer lasting positive benefits. In this article I'll cover why gratitude is important and also share with you 3 simple ways you can start practising gratitude today.
What Is Gratitude?
Saying 'thank you' gives a biological response. Gratitude as an emotion makes you feel happy, and gratefulness as a mood is seen as a personality trait. But, both of these are fleeting moments in time.
Dr Robert Emmons, a pre-eminent researcher and psychologist on gratitude took something that was 'modest and intangible' and explored it rigorously.
Although most people will be thankful for something, it does not mean that they are appreciative. As a result, there is no emotional reward.
Emmons researched the deep level of appreciation, and discovered that gratitude affected people's lives significantly. Gratitude means you:
- acknowledge the good in your life (you're more likely to say yes to life) and
- find a source of goodness that is outside of yourself.
Emmons also discovered that gratitude when felt deeply made people:
- more agreeable
- less neurotic
all of these contribute to enhanced well-being.
You can use gratefulness to make others feel:
The findings suggest that the primary purpose of gratitude is to form new social relations and strengthen existing ones. Gratitude is a selfless act, but it is contagious.
But just to read about gratitude and use it sporadically will not have long-lasting effects. Instead you need to practice it every day for it to make a significant impact.
Why Gratitude Is Important
I mentioned above a number of ways that gratitude is important. But, let's dig further.
Makes You Feel Better
If you practice gratitude it will make you feel good. And anything that makes you feel better is a good thing. If you have a gratitude mindset you learn to focus on the positive things in life and take action to continually improve it.
For example, an improved optimistic outlook towards your well-being and health means that you're more likely to act in ways to support a healthy lifestyle.
I know when I'm looking at all the things I've achieved I get a really good buzz and I feel grateful for the experiences or opportunities that came my way. If I focus on the bad things, then my mood plummets. Have you noticed this?
I understand that if you're feeling low, it's difficult to see beyond the negatives. But, try and write a list of all the things you're grateful for and I promise your mood will improve.
Gratitude Is Motivational
When you are grateful for something, it increases the desire to do things in return. For me, I'm grateful for the opportunity to write each day. This motivates me to write more and pushes me to improve each day.
Makes You Eat Healthier
Research has shown that the more grateful you are, you're more likely to make better choices. Gratitude is a positive mood booster and this impacts your eating habits. If you're anything like me, when I feel bad about myself I'm prone to reach for the not so healthy snacks. Chocolates and biscuits come to mind.
When I'm feeling positive my snack choices are better. I'm more likely to be seduced by a satsuma!
if you focus on being truly grateful for what you have then you're more likely to exercise self-control. The consumerist society we live in has taught us that we can only be happy if we have more stuff.
But this isn't true. If you're grateful for what you have, you appreciate things more. You're unlikely to make impulse purchases or spend money on things you don't need.
If you're constantly strive for something you cannot reach, you become dissatisfied. Imagine how you would feel if you were grateful for the things you already had? You'd feel more at ease, less likely to feel the need to compare yourself to others and as a result maintain a more balanced outlook on life.
Strengthens Social Connections
Being grateful to the people around you enhances your connection to them. How often do you take your loved ones for granted?
Our family and friends enrich our lives each day. They make us laugh, help us cope with tough times and sometimes do little things that make our life easier.
Being grateful strengthens the bond. People like to feel that they have made a difference, but they're not mind readers. Take the time to tell them that you appreciate what they do for you.
We all like to feel appreciated. Expressing gratitude to someone makes them and you feel good. In addition, when you're grateful for someone you tend to forgive more and build trust. You look at the person in entirety rather than focus in on their faults which may be just a small part of who they are.
If you express gratitude for one thing you have, it increases your sense of gratitude for all things. Once you start to look at life with gratitude you begin to realise just how much you have in your life that's positive. Expanding your gratitude creates a positive feedback loop where you feel better about yourself and enhances your confidence and self-esteem.
Enhances Positive & Reduces Negative Emotions
Gratitude, as I've mentioned releases positive emotions. When you're grateful there is no room for the negative emotions such as jealousy or envy. Those negative emotions are destructive. They can eat away inside you and leave you feeling bitter. Definitely unhealthy for your mind, but also your body!
When focused on gratitude, you're less self-centred. At work, you're more likely to acknowledge the contribution of others to your success, which builds strong working relationships.
You become friendlier to other people. And, you've guessed it, the friendlier you are to others, the more likely it will be reciprocated.
Gratitude is like a boomerang. The more you throw it out, the more you get it back.
If you moan about work, you're likely focussed on all the reasons why you hate it.
If you express gratitude for the opportunity to do the work, you become more focused on the job in hand and by default get more done.
Also, if you're grateful for the contribution of others and make them aware of it, you're more likely to get help when you struggle with tasks you don't have experience of. Let's face it, if you saw someone struggle with an issue, wouldn't you be more likely to help if you knew they would be grateful to you for it?
I've mentioned 12 good reasons as to why gratitude is important. But how do you practice gratitude on a daily basis so that you reap the rewards of greater happiness and a more positive outlook on life.
3 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude
1. Write 3 things you're grateful for every day.
You don't need a fancy book or an expensive app. Each day, preferably in the morning, write down three things in a notebook. If you keep the notebook by the side of your bed you'll find it easier to remember to do it.
When you first start out, it might be difficult to think of 3 things. Don't overthink it, write whatever comes into your head. When I started, I noted things like:
- my warm cosy bed
- the sunshine through the curtains
- my first cup of coffee
The secret is to do this consistently.
Why in the morning? You start the day with a positive mindset which means that you're able to cope with challenges that might arise during the day.
As you continue with this practice you'll find yourself being grateful for things that happened the day before and before you realise it you will find a lot to be grateful for. Some days I find it hard to keep to just 3!
2. Write A Gratitude Letter
Scientific research by Seligman, Steen & Peterson conducted in 2005. They asked students to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who they hadn't properly thanked for their kindness in the past. What the research discovered was an immediate increase in happiness scores, far outweighing other studies they had undertaken. But the benefit of doing this lasted for a month.
The process is as follows:
- think of a person who has shown you a kindness in the past
- reflect on the benefits of their kindness and write a letter
- personally deliver the letter to the person you are grateful to
- spend time talking about what is written
3. Play The Gratitude Game
You can play this game on your own or with others. Go through the alphabet from A to Z and think of something you are grateful for starting with that letter.
You could also add in the reason why you are grateful.
A - grateful for apples because they are a scrummy healthy snack that makes me feel good
B - books because they help me to learn more about myself and the world around me.
Why do you need to practice gratitude daily?
Gratitude is a way to approach life with a positive outlook. By practising daily you're more likely to get into the habit of doing it automatically. Forming a habit can take an average of 66 days
What if you have nothing to be grateful for?
We all have times in our life when things are not going our way. We can feel depressed and down. If you're finding life difficult at the moment and as a result struggle to find things to be grateful for try the Gratitude Alphabet Game mentioned above. Playing a 'game' can spark creative thinking
Is Gratitude Just A New Fad?
No. The study of gratitude and the impact it has on people's happiness has been around a long time. The ancient philosophers Cicero and Seneca thought of gratitude as a key virtue foundational to any successful civilization.