We are often urged to practise gratitude to improve our well-being? But does this have any backing in social science? Yes it does and I outlined some examples in my Irish Times column (the column is behind a paywall so here are the relevant extracts) :
“A series of studies reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003 found that people benefitted from spending time deliberately reflecting on what they felt grateful for.
“Benefits included a more optimistic outlook – helpful in many domains of life and, in one group, more time spent exercising. Those who practised gratitude were also more likely to help others. Engaging in the gratitude reflection every day for fifteen minutes had a stronger effect than doing so once a week.
“One of the groups studied was made up of adults with neuromuscular diseases. Participants in this group who practised gratitude also found felt more positive than controls, they had less negative feeling, they slept better and woke up more refreshed. The study covered a period of only a few weeks so the results are impressive.
“In a more recent, longer, study, researchers at California State University found children, aged 10-14, who had grown up to be grateful experienced many benefits. The researchers measured the gratitude levels at the start and end of a 4-year period to establish who were the most grateful. Those in the most grateful twenty per cent had a greater sense of meaning, were more satisfied with their lives, were more happy and hopeful and had fewer negative emotions or symptoms of depression. For more see http://bit.ly/gratefulteens
“What all these findings seem to suggest is that cultivating gratitude improves your wellbeing in many ways and that this applies even if you have challenging health conditions.”
How to do it?
How to cultivate gratitude? Try making a mental or written list daily of what you are grateful for. This could include items from today or yesterday or from years ago. If you want to take a really long view you could include events that happened before you were born – for instance a favour that made a big difference in the life of a grandparent and, consequently, to you.
You could write a letter of gratitude to someone for what they have done for you or meant to you – writing such a letter boosts your mood – even if you never post it.
You could divide your life into three sections (dividing your age by three is an easy way to do this) and reflect on something you feel grateful for in each time period.
See if you can feel that gratitude in your heart or tummy areas – these areas connect to the emotional parts of the brain and so can help deepen your sense of gratitude.
In whatever way you’d prefer to do it, try cultivating gratitude in your life and I think you’ll be glad you did it.
Mindfulness helps us to cultivate gratitude – take a look at my Easy Mindfulness online course which has 15 lessons you can do whenever you like.
Image by Wilhelm Gunkel
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