Being grateful and focusing on the good things in life have been shown to improve our mind, body and relationships.
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." – Greek philosopher, Epictetus
Gratitude is a concept that has been embraced by philosophers and thinkers throughout the ages and is a common element in many religions and spiritual practices.
In recent years, researchers have been studying the benefits of being grateful. Scientific evidence shows that intentionally expressing gratitude can have a positive impact on our mental wellbeing, relationships and physical health.
We spoke with Dr Grant Blashki, a lead clinical adviser at Beyond Blue, about the benefits of practising gratitude in leading a happier and healthier life, and how to get started.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is being in a state of thankfulness and appreciating the value of what we have.
Research defines gratitude as recognising the goodness in our lives, while at the same time as acknowledging that this goodness comes at least partially from outside of ourselves. It’s about refocusing on what we have, not what we lack.
Studies show that the practise of gratitude can make us happier and healthier. Here are three important benefits.
1. Gain a positive perspective
One well-known research project on gratitude asked different groups of people to write down the things they were grateful for every day, while others were asked to write down things that annoyed or bothered them.
The results showed that those who focused on gratitude had a more positive outlook on life.
According to Dr Blashki, practising gratitude can help you manage stress, be more patient and improve your mood. When difficult situations arise in life, as they inevitably do, being grateful can help you get through them.
“Gratitude gives you a positive perspective on life, which in turn, helps you cope better with the challenging and difficult situations we all face,” Dr Blashki said.
2. Build more meaningful relationships
As well as improving mental wellbeing, practising gratitude helps us build more meaningful relationships with our partners, families and friends.
In some ways, this is obvious. For example, if you constantly remind yourself of how grateful you are for your partner, then this will naturally result in a better relationship with them.
But Dr Blashki says practising gratitude can also make you more generous in your relationships and encourage positive social behaviours, like being compassionate and forgiving. In turn, this makes the bond with our loved ones stronger and more meaningful.
3. Give your physical health a boost
Studies have shown that gratitude benefits your physical health too. Practising gratitude leads to a stronger immune system, fewer aches and pains, and better sleep. You could try counting your blessings instead of counting sheep!
If you’re feeling happier and sleeping better, it makes sense you’ll be more motivated to lead a healthier, more balanced life.
How to start practising gratitude
Given how busy we are in our day-to-day lives, Dr Blashki says we need to make an intentional decision to begin the practise of gratitude.
“We have such busy, distracted lives that it’s easy for our attention to be constantly distracted from what we have to be grateful for,” he said.
Dr Blashki recommends taking the time to write down the things for which we’re grateful in a journal. This could be as small or as incidental as the tasty strawberries we ate for lunch, through to the roof over our head, or the loved ones in our life.
There are also a number of gratitude apps that provide an easy and convenient way to capture these positive thoughts on the go.
You might also like to try practising a similar concept to gratitude, called mindfulness, which involves focusing on the present and keeping your attention in the “here and now”. This too can be useful to improve health, relaxation and wellbeing. There are a number of mindfulness and meditation apps to help get you started in this area too.
Dr Blashki said the practise of gratitude, mindfulness or meditation can come easier to some people than others.
If you have trouble breaking negative thought patterns in order to focus on gratitude, you might want to seek help from a healthcare professional. Psychologists, for example, can use a technique known as cognitive behaviour therapy to help focus your mind on helpful and positive thoughts.
What do you feel most grateful for? Why not grab a pen and paper and make your first gratitude list today?