As we come to the end of what has been, for many people, the most challenging year of their lives, many will be looking forward to saying a swift good riddance to 2020. But the truth is, while it has been incredibly hard, it is also a year that has given us a lot. So as this year draws to a close and we step delicately and cautiously into 2021, I’d like to offer you this final thought – be grateful.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful and the readiness to show appreciation for and the willingness to return kindness. It costs nothing at all, does no require any special preparations and starts with just two words – thank you. But true gratitude extends far beyond this simple action and if adopted as part of your lifestyle, can bring tremendous benefits and help you to transform your life – as well as the lives of others around you. It is important to remember that gratitude is a two-way thing – we must train ourselves not just to unconditionally offer our gratitude for even the smallest of things, but also to be open and humbly embrace gratitude when it comes to us. So just why is gratitude so important and how can you make it something that you consciously practise in your daily life? Read on to learn more.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
There are numerous benefits of gratitude, the effects of which can improve our happiness, health, wellbeing, relationships and productivity to name but a few. Let’s take a closer look at just some of the main benefits.
Gratitude makes us happier
We live in a world where we are taught to constantly pursue that which we do not have, and where the accumulation of wealth and material possessions is the default measure of success. As a result, we spend a huge amount of our time focusing on that which we desire rather than that which we are blessed with. Making a conscious decision to reflect on all that you have and be grateful for it reminds us of the true values in life and helps us to truly appreciate where we are and how far we have come in the moment – and all the evidence indicates that this can make people much happier.
Gratitude improves relationships
Humans are social creatures and healthy interaction with others is essential to our emotional wellbeing. Gratitude is connected with the appreciation of others, trust, honesty and true friendship. Ultimately it makes us a nicer person. And guess what – nice people are attracted to… you got it, nice people! If you place gratitude as a central pillar of any relationship, be it love, friendship, colleagues or clients, you cannot fail to see an improvement in the relationship.
Gratitude is good for your health
The sceptical among you are probably already wondering how the simple act of saying thank you can improve your health. I get you, it seems far fetched. But the truth is, people who practise gratitude are happier, less stressed and more emotionally balanced. As well as being directly beneficial in their own right, these effects can also have a positive impact on blood pressure, heart function, kidney function and general immunity. In addition, people who practise gratitude tend to avoid damaging activities such as smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol, which also adds to the benefits.
How can I practise gratitude?
So with these incredible benefits in mind – and that is just for ourselves before we consider how gratitude can impact the lives of those around us – how can we go about making it a conscious behaviour that we adopt as part of our daily lives? Here are some ways you can try.
According to Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, simply keeping a gratitude journal, in which you regularly write brief reflections on moments for which you are thankful, an significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction. A gratitude journal is not reserved for those special, momentous occasions and achievements that you want to shout about from the rooftops either – it can be used to record even the smallest things that have made you grateful. This could be anything from waking up alive, seeing the sunshine, enjoying somebody’s presence, or simply having food to eat or a job to go to. There is absolutely no limit to what you can be grateful for.
One approach that tends to work well is to set yourself a goal to record three things each day that you are grateful for. Commit to writing them down in a notebook, as this will encourage you to revisit and reflect, and can serve as a source of strength to draw on at times of hardship and difficulty.
A fun alternative to the gratitude journal described above is a gratitude jar. With this technique, whenever you experience a poignant moment of gratitude, you write it on a piece of paper and place it in the jar. You then choose a particular occasion to open the jar and review everything you have written. This may be New Year’s Eve, your birthday or some other occasion that is of particular personal significance. You can also open the jar if you experience emotional difficulties such as a stressful or traumatic time in your life and feel a need for some support.
You may wish to take it even further and make some kind of display or a piece of creative art out of it when you do open your jar – remember that creativity is also incredibly transformational so why not increase the value of the exercise even more?
Writing letters can be highly therapeutic even without any specific reason behind it. But if you feel that you have failed in your duty of gratitude towards someone and your actions (or lack thereof) may have caused upset, distress, misunderstanding or simply left someone feeling unappreciated, writing a letter is a great way to cleanse your soul and overcome the bad feelings that you are holding. You don’t necessarily have to go into the details – just a short note to express your belated gratitude for something somebody did for you will suffice. If you can, try to give the letter to the intended recipient by hand, as this increases the effect.
As well as restoring the balance in relatively minor events, this technique can also be applied to helping you find closure on significant life events such as a traumatic relationship breakup or a broken relationship with a parent. Remember, however, that what matters most is the sincerity from your side – for your own wellbeing, it is important to offer gratitude without expectation of receiving anything back.
Say thank you – and mean it
We tend to say thank you to many people on a daily basis, but do we really mean it? And are we saying it because we really truly want to, or because it’s just the done thing to do? Next time you thank somebody, don’t just say thank you and nothing more – tell them why what they said or did mattered to you and how they have helped to make the day a better day. Be public about it too – why pull them to one side and whisper when the whole world can join in and celebrate your gratitude? Let’s face it, the world needs an awful lot more gratitude right now so lead by example and perhaps others will follow.
Choose gratitude to end this year and take you into the next.