Why Gratitude Matters

As we look back on this past Christmas season (collectively loosening our belts!), before we start to look forward to the year ahead it is good to look back at the year we’ve just gone through. And our focus should be on what we can be thankful for, rather than what has been difficult or that we really didn’t like. Allowing gratitude to permeate our thinking and our lives has so many far-reaching benefits. So in today’s #TherapistsThoughts blog post, the Centre’s London-based therapist Teyhou Smyth looks at the practice of gratitude.

Here at the Centre, we are so grateful to you, our readers, colleagues and clients, for walking on this journey with us. Please do take a moment to share a moment of gratitude you may have on our social media profiles today.

As children we are taught to say “thank you” from an early age. We learn the importance of expressing our thanks to others as a matter of etiquette.

By the time we reach adulthood, we have had a lot of practice with saying ‘thank you’ to others. We say it multiple times per day, to everyone from the cashier at the convenience store to the coworker who holds the door or family member who passes the salt at the dinner table.

Offering a simple thank you is such a common practice we may not even realize we’re doing it. It’s practically automatic.

While those expressions of ‘thank you’ are important, there is another type of thankfulness that isn’t directed toward a specific person who has done something for you. Gratitude is a concept that is a more generalized type of thanks.

We can have gratitude toward a person, or it can be a more universal appreciation for one’s blessings.

Why Be Thankful?

At first glance, it wouldn’t seem important to worry about gratitude outside of the social norms of “please and thank you.” But gratitude is important. It has many positive outcomes that are uniquely connected to the experience.

Gratitude changes your cognitive focus:

When you are tuned in to gratitude, it changes the way you look at life. Much of our mental health depends on what our attention is focused on. If our focus is on the negative aspects of life, that can result in an increase in depressive symptoms and overall negativity. This frame of mind sets us up for filtering out positive life attributes. Focusing on gratitude trains our minds to consciously think about the positive parts of our lives, which can become habitual if practiced regularly.

Better health outcomes:

In a controlled study of three different journaling groups, the group who wrote about what they were grateful for everyday had better outcomes. The gratitude group exercised more than the other two groups and ended up having less doctor’s visits during the timeframe they were assessed. In addition, sleep patterns have been shown to improve as a result of increased gratitude.

Improved relationships:

Gratitude can extend beyond our own lives and can have a positive impact on interpersonal relationships. When we become grateful for our partners it often translates into improved interactions and a more unified connection. Relationships with extended family and friends also improve when we experience gratitude for their presence in our lives.

Improved self-esteem:

Increasing gratitude practices in ones life also boosts self-esteem. The intentional focus on positive aspects of life also increases focus on one’s own positive attributes, which can translate into better self-evaluation.

Increased oxytocin levels in the brain:

Oxytocin is our friend. It is the feel-good chemical released in the brain when we feel love for others and express it. In studies of couples, lab testing showed an increase in oxytocin levels after gratitude was expressed. This suggests that the way we think and express our feelings of gratitude directly affects our physiological outcomes.

How to Boost Your Gratitude Levels

Often making a conscious decision to focus on gratitude is the first and most important step in boosting your gratitude levels. Taking specific actions to improve one’s gratitude helps to cement those habits into lasting patterns.

Start a gratitude journal:

Get into the practice of writing down what you are thankful for on a daily basis. Keep it simple and stick to a certain time of day, such as before bedtime, and write one or two sentences per day. If the journal is kept simple and time-limited it will feel like a more manageable habit to establish.

Tell someone ‘thank you’:

Think of someone you are grateful for and tell them. Be as specific as you can. What about this person makes you thankful? How have they impacted your life in a positive way? Telling people why you are thankful for their presence in your life offers positive outcomes for both you.

Pay it forward:

One of the best ways to boost gratitude levels is to pay your gratitude forward. Think about something kind someone else has done for you and strive to do that same thing for someone else. Maybe it’s something simple like sending a card or maybe it is more involved such as helping someone with yard work or cooking a meal.

Perform random acts of kindness:

Doing something for someone you don’t know for the simple purpose of being kind is a prime example of gratitude-in-action. When we give from a grateful spirit it is self-perpetuating. The positive feeling one gains from giving unselfishly and anonymously is invigorating.

Encouraging Gratitude Practices in Others

Gratitude likes company. Encourage others to join in your efforts to boost the gratitude in everyday life.

Create a gratitude Facebook page:

Facebook can be a terrific place to spread great ideas and boost morale. Develop a gratitude page for people to randomly post about things they are grateful for. The positive energy this will create is contagious.

Start a bulletin board of thankfulness at work:

The workplace is a great place to encourage gratitude. We spend so many hours in the workplace and often the stress of work can bring morale down.

Start by posting a few notes on the bulletin board in the break room, listing things you are thankful for. Tell others about your plan to boost gratitude at work and ask them to add their own notes.

Gratitude rituals at home:

Start a tradition of talking about your gratitude at the dinner table. Establishing this tradition will not only create a positive memorable routine for you and your loved ones, it will also retrain your focus onto the best parts of your life. Sharing the best parts of our days with loved ones helps us to multiply the joy and celebrate the everyday blessings together.

The more you nurture your gratitude, the more habitual it will become.

The habit of gratitude comes from putting it into action in daily life. Challenge yourself to come up with a variety of ways to think about and express your gratitude. The benefits of this type of regular practice will not only improve your quality of life, but will extend and benefit others.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website www.livingwithfinesse.com]

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