• noun

“The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

Last week, I had a conversation with a client about feeling grateful and how it was something that they wanted to a) continue feeling and b) wanted their children to be more aware of. We discussed as to how easy it is to forget the little things, the things that make a huge difference to our lives that somehow go unnoticed.

So, gratitude is an emotion similar to appreciation and research has found neurological reasons why so many people can benefit from the practice of expressing thanks for our lives, even in times of challenge and change.

There are 2 stages of gratitude according to Doctor Robert Emmons (2003):

  1. First comes the acknowledgment of goodness in one’s life. In a state of gratitude, we say yes to life. We affirm that all in all, life is good, and has elements that make worth living, and rich in texture. The acknowledgment that we have received something gratifies us, both by its presence and by the effort the giver put into choosing it.
  2. Second, gratitude is recognising that some of the sources of this goodness lie outside ourselves. We can be grateful to other people, to animals and to the world. We recognise the goodness in our lives and who to thank for it, i.e., who made sacrifices so that we could be happy?

Why Gratitude Works.

Gratitude is a selfless act. Its’ acts are done unconditionally, to show to people that they are appreciated. “A gift that is freely given” is one way to understand what these acts are like.

For example, if someone is sad and you write them a note telling them how much you appreciate them, you are not likely to be asking for something in return; instead, you are reminding them of their value, and expressing gratitude for their existence. You are not waiting for a “return note” from this person.

Even when we do not expect a return, sometimes they happen. Gratitude can be contagious, in a good way. Maybe having written that note, your friend will recognise when you are having a tough time and send you a little reminder of their thankfulness to have you in their life?

There are many studies that show where gratitude can improve our mental health, some of the areas are;

  1. Enhancing your wellbeing
  2. Creating deeper relationships
  3. Improving optimism
  4. Increasing your happiness
  5. Greater self-esteem

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

With this in mind, what can we do to build better practices of gratitude in our lives? A gratitude journal is a great way to start

So, this evening, before you go to sleep, think of the positive things that happened during your day and write them down in your journal. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, it can be the smallest things, maybe things that you would usually take for granted?

Some of the things I have jotted down in the past are:

  • I have a safe space to sleep tonight
  • I can turn on the electricity by the flick of a switch
  • I turn on the tap and clean fresh water comes out

Obviously, you can also note the bigger things that you are grateful for – a promotion at work, selling your house quickly, a friend or relative that has come through a tough time – get the picture?

The trick is to do this EVERY night, even when you’ve had a “bad day” there will always be something to feel grateful for. For those struggling with depression or anxiety, this can also frame the beginning of a day: before getting out of bed, experiment and find the right time for you.

If you have children, take a moment with them before bedtime to ask them to think about something they’re grateful for themselves. Share what you’re grateful for, let them see your appreciation for the positive things in your life.

On the whole, we have lots to be grateful for even during the toughest of times, I always feel uplifted by the action of gratitude, I enjoy making people feel appreciated, I love reading about random acts of kindness and I’m grateful for those kind people in the world – practicing gratitude is a great habit to get into and can make such a difference to how you are feeling.