What is gratitude?
Regardless of who you are, where you are or what you’re life circumstances are, you should practice gratitude.
Yes, gratitude is something to be practiced and improved on, over time. Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Scientific studies have concluded that among other positive benefits gratitude can make you happier, decrease or help eliminate depression, make you more optimistic and help you sleep better. 1,2,5
2 Parts to GRATITUDE
Some psychologist’s separate the practice of gratitude into two main parts.2
The first part is affirming there are good things in the world, and recognizing that other people or higher powers have granted you and helped you accomplish the good in your life. So if you’re not an overly spiritual person (which is completely okay) this may sound strange to you. But just think of it as a way to accept that you’ve had help during your life journey. This does not mean you should owe all of your life successes to other people or beings, you’ve still worked hard after all. It’s just a way to acknowledge that something greater than yourself has helped you out a bit, or the positive reinforcement of others has helped you achieve success. Now success is different for everyone. When you think of success, you might think of happiness. If you feel extremely happy, perhaps it’s partially due to the positive people in your life. Therefore you might find yourself choosing to show gratitude and thankfulness to your friends and family. It can be that simple. If you are a spiritual or religious person, feel free to show and practice gratitude and thankfulness to a higher being or energy. There’s no wrong way to show gratitude.
Once you’ve recognized what you’re thankful for, it’s time for part 2, practicing it. There’s no one way to do this. Some people suggest taking time out of your day to “thank” the universe and higher energies for blessing you with positivity. For some of us, this might make us feel modest and in-touch spiritually. For others perhaps you would prefer to pray, meditate and express your thankfulness in one of those ways. Just do whatever makes you feel the best. Other ways to practice gratitude are to do good deeds or favours for people or other living things but do it especially for those who cannot pay you back. This is a pure form of spreading positive energy. Helping those who don’t have the means to help you back is a very noble and kind concept. This may even instill gratitude among others. There are many ways to do this. You can volunteer, do random acts of kindness, or simply interact with strangers in a positive and friendly manner. You can also try painting, sculpting or writing about things you’re grateful for. Gratitude is all about spreading and prolonging positivity.
Studies have shown that spending 5 minutes a day writing about the things you’re grateful for, can improve your long-term happiness by 10%1. Here are some tips for starting a gratitude journal:
- Write down 5 things you’re grateful for, at least once a day. Or if once a day is too much of a time commitment for you, start by practicing this once a week.
- Try your best to avoid repeating the same things. Or you can repeat on occasion, but provide a different reason for why you’re grateful for this. Example: On Monday I might write: I am grateful for my cat because he makes me feel happy to come home. On Tuesday I can change it to ‘I am grateful for my cat because when I’m sad, seeing him makes me feel a lot better.’
- You can start by writing down the very basic necessities you’ve been privileged enough to have in your life IE. food, water, shelter, human interaction. As you progress, begin to think about more obscure and unique qualities you’re grateful for. For example, I’m grateful for the way the sun hits my back on Sunday mornings as I wake up. I’m grateful for the way the leaves crunch under my feet as I jog through my neighbourhood in the fall. The more you write, the better you’ll be at picking up on the small things in your everyday life that brings you joy.
- Try to write about both emotional, spiritual and physical things. Mix it up.
- Be grateful for yourself, it’s not selfish to show self-gratitude, it’s actually the opposite of selfish! Write about your health, both mentally and physically, your soul, spirit and abilities.
- Don’t forget to write about all of the lovely people in your life! If you’re not a huge people person, don’t worry. Write about your pets! Or plants, plants are awesome.
- It’s healthy to write about specific situations as well. If someone called you at work today and you gave them excellent customer service and they told you how happy they were with the information you provided them with, WRITE IT IN YOUR JOURNAL! Seriously, it will be so amazing to look back in a month and see cute little snippets of your day recorded.
Remember not to get discouraged if you don’t feel the positive benefits right away. Try your best to do 30 straight days of writing in a gratitude journal, then you can be the judge.
There have been studies that support the relationship between practicing gratitude and improved career ambitions.1 Practicing gratitude on a regular basis may also lead to a more interactive social life and it may even help you live longer!4 A study published in 2015 in the Journal of Religion and Health concluded that those who appeared to be more grateful, were actually physically healthier than those who weren’t as grateful.3 If gratitude can make you happier on a daily basis, this can lead to less daily stress, improved work ethic, more restful sleeping patterns, and it might even motivate you to exercise more. A study conducted by 2 psychologists found those who wrote on a weekly basis about what they were grateful for, exercised more than those who didn’t.5 So if there are strong correlations between physical health and practicing gratitude, it’s not irrational to believe practicing gratitude on a regular basis could help you live longer.
Find out what the best way of practice is for you, and capitalize on it so you can reap the benefits and inspire others to stay positive as well.
Don’t forget to care for yourself so you can care for others and further your gratitude practice. Read our Self Care Tips for some inspiring ideas!