Have you ever felt truly grateful for something in your life? Perhaps it’s a life circumstance or a person? The fact is, gratitude, practiced consistently, is a powerful catalyst for long-term happiness – and the science backs this up. But why is it that so many people seem to ignore this accessible happiness strategy?
In this article, we look at the concept of gratitude more closely including what it is, what the research says, and how you can practice gratitude with greater ease and effectiveness.
What is gratitude?
A positive emotion, gratitude is the act of thankful appreciation for something or someone in your life, including yourself. By recognising a positive outcome or the goodness in life, people can reflect and connect with something larger than themselves. They can recognise that there is often an external source for their positive outcome, whether it be nature, animals, a higher power, other people, destiny or fate.
At its core, gratitude is humbling, heart-warming and healing. But most importantly, it triggers the need to give back or pay it forward. The sociologist Georg Simmel coined this ‘the moral memory of mankind.’
So, why is gratitude so effective? By strengthening the recall of all the good things in our life, we begin to see the world, and those in it, differently. Gratitude acts as a ‘social glue’ to recognise, build, invest and nurture strong relationships – with others and with ourselves.
The 3 stages of gratitude
Gratitude is said to have 3 stages. They are:
- Stage 1: Acknowledging what you’re grateful for in your life. We have all experienced these types of feelings, but mostly they are fleeting. The key is to adopt a more regular ‘attitude of gratitude’ by being more purposeful and intentional with your gratitude practice. (Read on for more tips and tricks to establish a transformative gratitude practice).
- Stage 2: Expressing gratitude to others. This can seem like a daunting step, but by reaching out to others who have enriched your life, you can strengthen social bonds, leading to greater happiness in life.
- Stage 3: Integrating the essence of gratitude into your life and psyche. When you do this effectively, you start to adapt your behaviours, showing less judgement, more compassion, greater love, more appreciation for others, and an enhanced appreciation for life itself. This is where the magic is!
What the research says…
The science is unanimous on this one! A growing body of evidence shows that gratitude is key to driving happiness, wellbeing (better mental health), life satisfaction, self-esteem and even physical health. By calming our nervous system, gratitude has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep problems, digestion issues, respiratory infections, dizziness, nausea, pain and the list continues!
Interestingly, people who regularly practice gratitude seem to make better health choices, such as a focus on nutrition. It seems when we feel better in ourselves, we treat ourselves better as a result.
There is also evidence to suggest gratitude builds professional commitment. Employees who feel greater feelings of gratitude are more efficient, responsible, productive and happy at work. They put their hands up for more tasks, go the extra mile and build more effective interpersonal bonds with others. Gratitude also brings more empathy, compassion and consideration to leadership, increasing cohesiveness and team rapport.
4 powerful ideas to cultivate gratitude
Practicing gratitude consistently has long-lasting effects on the brain, enhancing our contentment, releasing toxic emotions, and heightening self-love and empathy. Here are our top 5 gratitude practices to try.
- Practice #1 – It’s all about you! Write down or stand in front of the mirror and list 5 good things about yourself. It could be personality traits, past achievements, actions, values, talents or virtues. We encourage you to do this as much as you can. If you want to take it one step further, you could even share this with another close person in your life or do it together as a regular practice.
- Practice #2 – The old faithful (but it works)! A gratitude journal is a tried and tested practice. List (preferably in writing) 5-10 things you’re grateful for every day. Sink into the feelings of gratitude. To give your gratitude practice structure, you may like to follow this format:
- People, senses or circumstances I am grateful for in life at present (see practice 4 for more inspiration!)
- Affirmations I’d like to give myself
- Challenges I’m experiences and what I can learn from them.
You may also wish to write down each gratitude on a slip of paper and place them in a jar or decorated box. Over time you will create a wealth of reasons to be thankful and reading them in down times can be highly effective.
- Practice #3 – Giving the gift of gratitude. Whether it’s a family member, friend, colleague or neighbour, we’ve all got someone in our life who’ve touched or helped us in some way. Why not actively tell them why you’re grateful and how they’ve impacted your life for the better. The gift of gratitude will boost the wellbeing of everyone involved – it really is a win-win!
You may also wish to create a gratitude jar or box for a specific person and give it to them on their birthday. This could include reasons why you love them, what they’ve done to impact your life, or funny stories or anecdotes involving them that you remember. They’ll love it!
- Practice #4 – Gratitude inspiration in all forms. Sometimes, you may feel stumped with gratitude ideas. That’s okay, it happens to us all! In this instance, we have a formula to help get your gratitude juices flowing. We encourage you to think about your senses, people and circumstances as inspiration. Here are a few examples:
- I am grateful for 3 things I hear, see, taste, touch and smell
- I am grateful for 3 animals, friends, family members, teachers, mentors, colleagues etc…
- I am grateful for 3 circumstances that have led to where I am, things in my home, lessons I have learnt, holidays, books, movies, strangers who helped me, things that make me laugh, tech gadgets, luxuries, talents, goals I’ve achieved, gifts I received, fond memories I have, simple pleasures, things I take for granted etc…
We encourage you to also take this gratitude quiz to see how grateful you are right now. This quiz not only provides useful steps to generate more gratitude in your life, but it also provides resources to help you cultivate thankfulness long-term.