Showing a little gratitude can go a long way
In the midst of a global pandemic, on top of life’s existing stresses, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of the good. But practicing gratitude is a great way to remind yourself of all that’s going right – particularly when a lot has gone wrong. So what is gratitude, and how do we practice it in everyday life?
Being grateful is synonymous with being thankful. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, it means showing or expressing thanks. But practicing gratitude goes one further: it means acknowledging positive things in your life and how they make you feel. It’s not a case of a US Thanksgiving-esque speech at the dinner table, and it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Day-to-day, it could mean noting the things that you’re thankful for or that made you happy. It could be the roof over your head or a compliment someone paid you. Maybe the recipe you tried worked. Acknowledging a nugget of goodness can brighten even the darkest of days – and it can serve as a nice distraction to boot.
Anecdotally, people will tell you that keeping a journal of things they’re grateful for has made them happier – but it’s scientifically proven too. Healthline says “Gratitude is one of many factors that contributes to positive mental health outcomes. One 2020 study showed that regularly practicing gratitude can help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Practicing gratitude fosters positive feelings and can contribute to a sense of well-being when done regularly.”
UC Berkeley’s Greater Good magazine conducted a study on adult students. They found that practicing gratitude benefitted not only well-functioning people, but also those with low levels of mental health. The study involved a sample of the group outlining in letters the things they were grateful for. Compared to those who weren’t tasked with the letters, they found an increase in mood and mental health overall. The benefits were long-lasting, too. The letter-writers experienced “significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.”
Aside from the mental benefits, it can improve friendships and relationships, too. By reminding yourself of the things you appreciate in your friends or partner, it can make weathering a rough patch or disagreement easier.
All you need to start a gratitude journal is some paper and a pen. There are some companies, like The Head Plan, who have gorgeous dedicated journals complete with prompts and quotes. But even a regular notebook, or your Notes app on your phone, can be a great outlet. If you’re feeling down, start small – you don’t have to pretend you’re perfectly happy and everything is great – but note even the little things that are. As you get used to it, you can start adding why you’re thankful for something, and how it makes you feel. For example, maybe the work day was a mess, but you’re thankful for the coffee you had this morning. Why? It set you up for the day, it tasted nice, and it meant you felt more able to tackle the challenges you faced.
When you’re finished – you’ll have a notebook full of exclusively good things. And who wouldn’t want to read that?