After running a gratitude-focused ‘Writing for wellbeing‘ workshop, The Joy Club member and wonderful host Susanna Lewis discusses the real benefits practising gratitude can have on your wellbeing…
Gratitude is one of the latest buzz words that we see all over the internet and yet do we really stop and explore what it really means? The meaning of gratitude is to ‘be grateful’ to ‘be thankful’, to truly appreciate all that we have and experience. Whilst we may know the meaning of the word, is it possible to use gratitude to improve our wellbeing and mental health? After years of teaching on this subject and seeing the transformation of my students, I truly believe it IS possible to utilise gratitude with more thought and mindful living.
Practising regular gratitude isn’t easy. We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with negative news, which drags us down into a place where gratitude is the last thing on our minds. We may be going through difficult circumstances in our personal lives and we can’t see anything positive, let alone be grateful for it. However, it is during these tough times that practising gratitude can actually help us lift our mood and feel a glimmer of happiness, even for a moment.
So how can practising gratitude help our wellbeing and improve our mental health?
Firstly, when you focus on gratitude, you automatically move away from your negative thoughts. It is impossible to feel gratitude and negative thoughts at the same time and so by focusing on more positive thoughts you can shift your mood to a happier state of mind.
When we experience the feeling of gratitude we think more positively which releases serotonin and dopamine – chemicals associated with happiness. This in turn reduces anxiety and stress and, if practised regularly, can become a way of life for us. Practising gratitude can also help with depression as it can give us a ray of light and hope that there is something good in our world and we have something to look forward to. When we feel less stress this has a huge impact on our life. We find we sleep better, we don’t suffer with illnesses as much (as our immune system works more efficiently) and we have a new zest for life as we are more alert to other sources of gratitude. I would go as far to say that practising gratitude can become quite moreish, as we crave new things to be grateful for once we realise how wonderful it can make us feel.
The practice of gratitude can also help to improve personal relationships. When we see the positive side to our friends and family – rather than focusing on the negative aspects of a person – we can appreciate just how lucky we are to have them in our life. This way of thinking helps us move forward and can bring so much more fulfilment to our relationships with others.
So, how can we start practicing gratitude in our daily lives?
Firstly, be more mindful. Look around you. Notice the house you live in, the food in your fridge, the clean water from the tap, the clothes in your wardrobe, the shoes on your feet. No, you might not live in the fanciest house and have a designer wardrobe but, really, does all that matter? You have clothes to keep you warm, a roof over your head and food to eat. You have the basics to keep safe – something to be truly grateful for.
When you go out for a walk, slow down and observe your surroundings. Listen to the birds, watch the tiny insects crawl on a leaf, notice the clouds drifting across the sky, observe the trees swaying in the wind. Isn’t nature amazing and beautiful? Think how lucky you are to be able to experience all these wonderful events happening before your eyes. If you can’t get outside, pull up a chair to the window and spend some time looking out. Watch the world go by, looking for precious moments as you do so.
Another sure way to improve your gratitude practice is to keep a gratitude journal. This can also be done in your everyday journal or in just a small notebook. For myself, every evening, I write down five things I am grateful for. These can be things that have happened during the day, such as catching up with a friend or it can be something as vague as being grateful for warm cuddles from my dog. These entries in our journal don’t have to be big, exciting events in our life. Remember, we are looking for small things that bring us joy, that elevate our mood and our feeling of thankfulness. If that yummy piece of cake you had at lunchtime makes you happy, then write it down!
I hope my little insight into gratitude has made you think about your own circumstances and how you can make gratitude a part of daily your life.
If you haven’t already, please do book onto Susanna’s next Writing for wellbeing workshop and discover more ways you can use a notepad and pen to improve your wellbeing…