The power of gratitude and how to practice it

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

The scientifically proven benefits of gratitude are astonishing.


Practicing gratitude is proven to increase positive emotions, reduce depression and stress, improve mood, the overall wellbeing and even change the brain. It is also proven to improve sleep quality, make you more in control of your life and even improve heart health.


Read below about my new habit, that I am very excited to motivate you to practice as well.

Gratitude journal is a great way to practice gratitude

Recently, I implemented a new habit in my life, which I am very excited to tell you all about. I'm already feeling its amazing benefits, that are also backed by science.


Every day, I write down several things for which I am grateful and why.


A study by Wong and Brown found astonishing effects of gratitude on increased positive emotions, reduced depression, improved mood, the overall wellbeing and even changes in the brain of their participants (1).


The study's participants were students who underwent therapy. They were divided into three groups.


One group was assigned to write letters to people towards whom they felt gratitude once a week, another group wrote about the bad things that have happened and how they felt about it every day and the third group didn't do anything, aside from attending their therapy sessions (1).


The study found that gratitude could divert the attention from negative thoughts by making the participants focus on the positive. This basically leaves less time to think about the negative aspects in life (1).


It also showed that, even if we don't send the letters, just writing letters of gratitude to people in our lives, makes us appreciate them and other situations more. When we focus on the feeling of gratitude as write, we become more susceptible to notice more positive things in our life for which we can be grateful (1).


The brains of participants who expressed their gratitude were also different than the ones who didn't.


The area responsible for decision making and learning became more sensitive, meaning that participants became more considerate of how they would express their gratitude (1).


Also, the area of the brain which is responsible for gratitude became generally more active in the group which wrote letters of gratitude compared to the ones who didn't. This shows that the effects of gratitude stay and are more easily accessible the more we practice gratitude (1).


Lots of other studies have also found the positive effects of gratitude:

  • Gratitude reduces stress and depression (2).

  • Gratitude helps people feel like they're in control of their lives and their future (3)

  • Gratitude can improve the heart health of patients who survived heart attack (4).

  • Gratitude increases sleep quality, better energy levels, and less inflammation in our body (5).

I hope that all the great benefits of gratitude make you just as excited to try it as I was when I learned about it.


So here, I have two little exercises that you can do right now, just to get an insight into how gratitude feels.


Exercise 1. Think of something good that happened to you this week.


Focus on remembering every detail of that event. What happened? How exactly did you feel about it? What value did it add to your life? What aspects of the event are you grateful for?


Try to be as elaborate as possible on what you are grateful about in this event. Feel the gratitude within you and fully enjoy it.


For example, recently, I had a meeting with a client at work, who very much appreciated my input on answering her questions and addressing her concerns.


It made me feel very useful, by being able to help her and I am grateful for being appreciated as well as noticing how much I have learned in the past years and how easily I can solve new problems that I had not encountered before.


Exercise 2. Instead of thinking about things in a negative way, focus on the positive aspects, that the event taught you.


Try to recall a situation that recently gave you negative feelings. Instead of thinking about it in a negative way, it is more beneficial to just mindfully observe it in your head.


Try to distance yourself from what happened and observe how you feel about it without judging the situation, or your feelings.


Observe any emotions that come up when you think about the situation. Feel those emotions but don't interact with them. Imagine as though you are observing yourself living in that event and feeling all those emotions.


Once you've allowed yourself to fully remember the situation and how it made you feel, you can start thinking of what it taught you, or any other ways it may have been beneficial to you.


For example, you may think that being in a relationship with the wrong person was a total waste of time and the breakup just made you feel horrible.


But bad relationships can actually be very beneficial for us by teaching us a lot of things.


If you were the one to break it off, then it shows how much strength you had in you, to leave a situation in life which didn't benefit you or resonated with you. Not many people have this much strength.


Therefore you can be grateful for having had the opportunity to see how strong you really are as well as having noticed a bad situation and freeing yourself from it.


If the other person was the one to break if off, you may be grateful for having the chance to be by yourself, not wasting any more time with the wrong person. Now you have the perfect opportunity to meet the right person when you're ready. You have also learned about the qualities that don't resonate with you in a partner, which you can watch out for in the future.


There are lots of things we can find to be grateful about, even in difficult situations in life. As you may have noticed from my little exercises, gratitude feels great!


Here are some more ways to practice gratitude:

  • Keep a journal of gratitude. Write a few things for which you are grateful every day. You can start by writing down general things in your life and then dwell deeper into the things that have, for example, happened today. It doesn't really matter if you're consistent with the number of things every day, or the time of the day you write this. Just focus on being consistent by writing every day for a few weeks.

  • Think about things/people/events you are grateful for. I find this to be most effective either the first thing as I wake up in the morning, or right before I go to bed. It gives me a warm feeling to start or finish off the day. Of course, you can do this at any other time of the day and even have a gratitude reminder set at several times during the day, such as alarm on your phone, or a post-it note at your workplace.

  • Write a gratitude letter to someone. Either send it, or don't, but just focus on how that person makes you feel and why you are grateful to have them in your life as you write it. Be as elaborative as possible. Once you're done, you may even want to deliver the letter in person, or just keep it to yourself.

  • Write a small thank you note for someone. Rather than writing the long letter, just write a small note, saying for what you are thankful. Has the person done something good that you would like to acknowledge? Either give the note to the person, or keep it to yourself. Try doing this once a week for several weeks.

  • Start saying "thank you" and really mean it. Similarly to writing a thank you note, elaborate for what exactly you are thankful as you say it to the person.

  • Imagine that a certain person, or something that you own, never existed, or an event that has a lot of meaning to you never happened. Imagine exactly how your life would be different and how it would make you feel. Then feel the gratitude of having the person/thing/event in your life.


Although the practice of gratitude gives you a great feeling once you've got a hang of it, studies have also shown that it may take a few weeks to really notice its effects.


So hang in there and keep going. At least in the beginning the practice of gratitude will make you realize all the great things you have in your life, which is pretty great. :)

Stay tuned for more science-backed evidence and tips on mindfulness that I will post in this blog.


I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog. Therefore you are more than welcome to leave a comment here, or contact me on info@thegreatermindfulness.com


Cheers!


Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Creator of The Greater Mindfulness


Sources

1. Wong, J. & Brown, J. (2017 June 6). How gratitude changes you and your brain. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved May 21, 2019, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

2. Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, A., & Joseph, S. (2008). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(4), 854-871.

3. Lambert, N.M., Graham, S.M., Fincham, F.D., & Stillman, T.F. (2009 November). A changed perspective: How gratitude can affect sense of coherence through positive reframing. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6), p. 461-470. DOI: 10.1080/17439760903157182.

4.Huffman, J.C., Beale, E.E., Beach, S.R., Celano, C.M., Belcher, A.M., Moore, S.V., Suarez, L. Gandhi, P.U., Motiwala, S.R., Gaggin, H., & Januzzi, J.L. (2015). Design and baseline data from the Gratitude Research in Acute Coronary Events (GRACE) study. Contemporary Clinical Trials, 44, 11-19.

5. Mills, P.J., Redwine, L., Wilson, K., Pung, M.A., Chinh, K., Greenberg, B.H., Lunde, O., Maisel, A., Raisinghani, A. (2015). The role of gratitude in spiritual well-being in Asymptomatic heart failure patients. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 2(1), p. 5-17. DOI 10.1037/scp0000050

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