In the digital era, we’re connected 24/7, spending an average of 3 hours per day on social media alone. With so much time spent in the digital realm, we’re left with less time to sit back and take stock. Less time to ponder our progress, our surroundings, the present moment.
Furthermore, as we navigate times of global change and uncertainty, many more of us are seeking meaning within our daily lives. Psychologists are repeatedly arriving at one remarkable solution for these modern struggles: gratitude.
If you're wondering whether practicing one positive emotion can really have such profound effects on your wellbeing, we have the answers here. Discover all there is to know about gratitude and how to make it a key part of your wellness toolkit.
Gratitude is a positive emotion, similar to appreciation, and is a key player in the positive psychology and mindfulness movements. Psychologists generally consider gratitude to be a deeper experience than simply being thankful. Rather than a fleeting emotion, it’s a more drawn-out experience.
It can be defined as the acknowledgement of the goodness in a situation. A feeling of profound appreciation for someone or something, whether tangible or intangible. More importantly, it has long-lasting effects on positivity.
The Three Stages of Gratitude
The full psychological process of experiencing gratitude as an emotion can be identified in three stages.
The first step of the gratitude process is recognition. This is the realization that there are positive things in your life and an awareness of your circumstances. Recognition could be compared to counting your blessings, for example, your family, friends, and home.
The next stage is acknowledgement. This is like a deepening of awareness of the things we’re grateful for. This part of the process is a more profound understanding of the positive effects of the valuable things in our lives.
In the appreciation stage, we feel the positive effects of our deepening grateful awareness. This is like assimilation of the significance of the great things in our lives. It creates a lasting sense of wellbeing and can also trigger other positive emotions.
How Does Gratitude Work?
Gratitude is both a scientific, psychological process and a personal human experience. Here's how gratitude works.
What Is the Science Behind Gratitude?
Scientific studies are consistently showing a relationship between practicing gratitude and improved mental health, but how does it work? Scientists consider the relationship between gratitude and happiness to be multidimensional.
On a biological level, feelings of gratitude are understood to originate in the right anterior temporal cortex, an area responsible for moral judgements. Scientists have found that some people are more inclined to be grateful thanks to higher amounts of grey matter in this area.
Experiencing gratitude has also been found to increase serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These neurotransmitters are directly associated with feelings of happiness and positive emotions. In short, gratitude biologically enhances our mood.
Practicing gratitude regularly can form stronger connections between these neurotransmitters, making it easier to access these positive emotions in the future. This ultimately leads to more lasting feelings of positivity and wellbeing.
For this reason, some psychologists have referred to gratitude as a 'natural antidepressant'. It’s suggested that practicing gratitude daily can have a similar effect as taking medication.
How Quickly Does Gratitude Work?
Some psychological studies have shown immediate increases in wellbeing in response to gratitude exercises. In some experiments, participants have reported feeling increased levels of contentment after only five minutes.
While it's possible to experience immediate results from a short gratitude exercise, as with any sort of training, the best results come from practice. The more you practice gratitude, the stronger the connections to positive emotions, and the more long-lasting the results.
Who Can Benefit From Practicing Gratitude?
In short, anyone can benefit from practicing gratitude. We can all afford to experience more positive emotions and increase our overall well-being. However, there are some groups of people who may stand to benefit more than others.
People who suffer from depression may benefit from gratitude practice. Gratitude is inversely related to experiences of depression, meaning those who are low in gratitude levels are more likely to suffer from the illness. Therefore practicing gratitude alongside other treatments could reduce the effects of depression.
Those who are having relationship difficulties may also benefit from gratitude practice. When we express appreciation towards a friend or partner we foster a sense of emotional intimacy. Recognizing the good in another person and their actions builds trust and loyalty, which are the foundations of strong relationships.
People who are trying to overcome an addiction, such as smoking, are also understood to benefit from gratitude practice. This is because gratitude is associated with increased levels of self-control. In turn, this makes it easier for people to exercise restraint and patience rather than giving in to cravings.
There is even some evidence that people suffering from heart failure may benefit from gratitude practice. Research has found that gratitude exercises reduced symptoms of heart failure, over a period of eight weeks.
Furthermore, those who practice gratitude are more likely to report experiencing higher energy levels, which in turn increases feelings of physical wellbeing.
What Can Practicing Gratitude Help With?
As we're starting to discover, practicing gratitude can benefit many different groups of people. But what else can it help with?
Can Boost Your Mental Health
In addition to reducing depression, gratitude is understood to elicit further positive emotions, such as contentment and pleasure. This can trigger an upward spiral of positive emotions, enabling us to continue experiencing more and more happiness.
Gratitude has also been linked to reducing the symptoms of other mental health issues, like anxiety. It's also understood to help with sleep disorders like insomnia.
Helps to Relieve Stress
Experiencing stress is a natural part of the human condition. But when the stress response is disproportionate to the perceived threat, it can become unhealthy. This is where practicing gratitude can help.
Psychologists have conducted several studies concluding a link between regular gratitude exercises and stress reduction. Lowering your stress levels has many other positive implications, from improved heart health to lowering engagement in unhealthy behaviours like drinking and smoking.
Can Help You Accept Change
Uncertainty is unavoidable, especially in the world we currently live in. Adapting to change and accepting uncertainty can be particularly challenging for some people, which can have a knock-on effect on other areas of life.
Research shows that gratitude, as a mindfulness exercise, can help people embrace uncertainty and adapt to change. This can help people to be more resilient and less emotionally affected by unexpected life changes. In summary, practicing gratitude can help you bounce back faster from life's setbacks.
How to Practice Gratitude
There are a number of different ways to practice gratitude. It can be as simple as taking a moment to sit and take stock of the positive things in your life. You can practice this anywhere, any time, and it will be beneficial.
There are also more structured or ritualistic ways of practicing gratitude, as tried and tested by psychologists. Here are a few of the most effective methods.
Gratitude journaling has become much more prevalent in recent years, and there are several different ways to approach it. Regularly observing and keeping a record of what you're grateful for has been found to increase positive emotions and long-term wellbeing.
Keeping a gratitude journal can be as simple as writing down one thing each day that you're grateful for. You can also expand on this with a weekly entry, listing the ten best things that happened in the previous week. You can also respond to specific questions or prompts, to further expand on your awareness of the positive things in your life. We expand more on journaling in a moment.
Mindfulness is a practice of being conscious of the present moment. It's awareness of who we are, where we are, and what we're doing. It can include observing thoughts and sensations, without any judgement for what we're experiencing.
This exercise goes hand in hand with gratitude. Being conscious of your blessings can foster a sense of perspective. This perspective can shine light on the positive things in your life, and reduce the presence of the negative.
There are also other ways to practice mindfulness. These can include breathing exercises, like observing the rhythms and sensations of your breath. Another mindfulness technique is to conduct a body scan, noticing how your body feels from the head to the toes.
Another way to practice gratitude and mindfulness is through guided sessions. There are in-person workshops as well as smartphone apps which can instruct you on practicing mindfulness.
Express Your Gratitude to Others
It's easy to take our nearest and dearest for granted. When certain people are core parts of our daily lives, we don't necessarily acknowledge their contributions to our happiness.
Paying attention to the little things that other people do for us is a great way to increase awareness and be mindful. By reflecting what we've experienced back to the other person, we express appreciation for their efforts.
To take this a step further, you may consider writing a note or letter of appreciation to someone important in your life. This could be a loved one, a teacher, or anyone who has positively impacted you.
Making another person feel noticed and valued not only makes them feel good about themselves, it also trains your brain to be more aware of these experiences. It also strengthens your relations with your loved ones.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude journal has been found time again to increase wellbeing. As mentioned, there are several different approaches to gratitude journalling. To get started with gratitude journalling, try starting with these prompts.
Gratitude Journal Prompts
- Describe a happy memory
- Write about an accomplishment that makes you feel proud
- Which of your personality traits are you grateful for?
- What are you most looking forward to?
- Describe the three best things that happened to you today
- What's your most precious possession?
- Describe a loved one and what makes them special
Gratitude can also be practiced as a form of meditation. Meditation has many benefits for the mind and body. When combined with practicing gratitude, these can be even more effective.
There are different ways to practice gratitude meditation. You could try listening to a guided gratitude-based meditation, using a mindfulness meditation app, or following a mantra meditation.
Grateful Mantra Meditation
- Find a position that will be comfortable for some time, either seated or lying down.
- Make sure that you won't be disturbed for a while. Set your phone to silent and take time to arrive in the space.
- Bring your awareness to your breath, taking a deep inhalation through the nose. Feel your lungs and belly rise with the inhalation, before exhaling fully though your mouth.
- Continue these deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, until this feels natural.
- Prepare to begin the mantra, which is 'I am grateful for...'.
- Repeat the mantra in your mind, each time adding a new ending.
If you find it difficult to come up with new ideas, just focus on your immediate surroundings and sensations. These may include things like:
- I am grateful for my comfortable chair.
- I am grateful for the sun shining into this room.
- I am grateful to feel the cool air on my skin.
How Gratitude Can Enhance Your Wellbeing
In the current age, caring for your health and wellbeing is serious business. Investing time and resources in your happiness and physical wellness is an investment in your future. Practicing gratitude is the perfect example of how making a little change can have a big impact.
However you choose to look after your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, be sure to partner with professionals who truly care. Take time to fully research the best options when it comes to health insurance, and don't settle for second best.
The team at Insurdinary is committed to helping you invest in your wellbeing, and is ready to assist you today.