“A good life happens when you stop and are grateful for the ordinary moments that so many of us just steamroll over to try to find those extraordinary moments.”
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is the act or practice of focusing our attention on what is good and meaningful in our lives thus promoting appreciation and contentment. As human beings we do not generally focus on the positives naturally, because our brains are wired for survival. So you are not defective or of poor character because you find yourself not thinking grateful thoughts or feeling grateful or acting grateful. However, it is something that we can intentionally and deliberately cultivate to bring more of it into our life, and so that it can become more of our default state of being.
What are the scientifically proven benefits of gratitude?
Research in the past 20 years has largely demonstrated that gratitude interventions lead to a range of positive outcomes. Whilst we don’t like to say proven or causes in psychological research, we can say that research supports that Gratitude influences these factors of our wellbeing …
- Gratitude leads to more adaptive coping mechanisms and personal growth which increases our tolerance of stress
- that Gratitude helps to provide a buffer against social comparison; which has always been important in our society but even more so with the impacts of social media, will so many comparing themselves to others highlight reels
- Gratitude reduces striving for materialistic goals and wealth that are believed to not bring true peace and contentment, whilst Gratitude is believed to support efforts towards meaningful goals
- Gratitude is believed to lead to greater self-esteem; although they are still working out the why behind this one
- More able to access positive happy memories
- Gratitude likely increases our social connection; whilst also fostering a ripple effect where people around us are likely to be more grateful as well
- More likely to feel connected to something greater than yourself (spiritual or otherwise)
- Enhance our physical bodies. Such as…
- reduce the complaints of body discomfort
- increase quality and duration of sleep duration
- promote exercise
- Improvements to stress and hypertension
How to practice gratitude?
“The very fact that gratitude is a virtue suggests that it must be deliberately cultivated.”
(Emmons, & Mishra, 2011)
When the term Gratitude is used, I often find that a lot of people tend to think of Grateful people, as it being something innate about a person, that you either have or don’t have. Thus they compare themselves and say “That’s just not me.” Whilst certainly some people radiate more gratitude than others, this is usually more a reflection on that other person’s practice of gratitude (a learned practice) than an innate characteristic (something they are born with) of who they are.
I think gratitude is something you think, feel and do. As thoughts, feelings and behavior which can all be intentionally influenced. For example;
Gratitude thoughts – using a gratitude journal can help to cultivate more grateful thoughts. Try listing 3 things that you are grateful for each morning, write them down. Repeat.
Grateful feelings – when you feel a sense of gratitude or appreciation; pull your attention to how that feels in your body and really savor the feeling (it will pass, as all feelings do) but taking the time to really enjoy it I believe promotes more of it in your life too
Grateful actions – tell someone you love and care about a reason why you feel grateful for them being in your life (I usually try to go for things about who they are rather than what they do for you as this tends to be more meaningful)
Do you feel grateful, or thinking you should feel grateful? There’s a difference.
I and some of the clients that I work with sometimes whilst attempting to practice gratitude, can fall into the trap of stating things that we think we “should” feel grateful for & thus when we try to connect to our body and really feel that feeling of gratitude it can be pretty underwhelming. ‘Should’ statements are a negative thinking pattern that can often lead us to feeling anxiety and panic, because we or others aren’t meeting a particular expectation or standard. Therefore, if when we are practicing gratitude we are sliding into ‘should-ing’ or ‘must-ing’ ourselves we are probably not getting the lovely positive impacts of the gratitude in our lives that we would hope for. Thus if you catch yourself falling into the trap, remember the thing you feel grateful for can be something small, or could be perceived as trivial, or something you have said or written before (there is no right or wrong), as long as you feel it.
If this is something you are finding challenging it would likely be helpful for you to work with a counsellor, coach or psychologist to overcome any barriers you are having to engaging in a gratitude practice – You don’t have to do this on your own to find the benefits of gratitude.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing.
Caputo, A. (2015). The relationship between gratitude and loneliness: The potential benefits of gratitude for promoting social bonds. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 11, 323-334. doi: 10.5964/ejop.v11i2.826
Emmons, R. A., McCullough, M. E., & Tsang, J.-A. (2003). The assessment of gratitude. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Positive psychological assessment: A handbook of models and measures (pp. 327–341). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10612-021
Emmons, R. A., & Mishra, A. (2011). Why gratitude enhances well-being: What we know, what we need to know. Designing positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward, 248-262.
Rash, J. A., Matsuba, M. K., & Prkachin, K. M. (2011). Gratitude and well‐being: Who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention?. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 3, 350-369. doi:10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01058.x
Author: Samantha Sheppard, B Psych (Hons).
Samantha is a registered psychologist with experience working with children and adolescents (and their families), young adults and adults. Samantha empowers others with their mental health using a non-judgmental, compassionate approach and particularly resonates with the social and emotional well-being framework.
To make an appointment with Samantha Sheppard try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.