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Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Of late, there have been articles, social media posts, books and much more all emphasising the benefits of a gratitude practice - but what does this actually mean? This blog aims to unpack the science and rationale behind gratitude, and to provide you with some ideas as to how you can design and begin your own practice.

Some people may have less than positive memories of being ‘shamed’ into gratitude as children by well-meaning adults who lectured them to finish all their food - ‘Think of all the starving children’ or ‘Don’t complain, others would be grateful to have a fraction of what you have.’

Others may feel suspicious that gratitude might predispose one to a mindlessly over-optimistic view of the world, glossing over potential pitfalls and problems.

In fact, research is now showing us that a predisposition towards gratitude has an immensely positive affect on our mental health and well-being. Engaging in a formal gratitude practice in the morning can set you up for a more positive, and productive, day!

Sometimes, especially if we’re in the middle of a particularly stressful or challenging period, this approach can seem almost impossible. However, closer examination reveals many facets of our lives which are usually taken for granted that are actually cause for real celebration.

Just take a moment to imagine how you would feel if you were in imminent danger of losing any of the following gifts that we currently enjoy - simply being alive, healthy, with a body strong enough to move around unaided. You can be thankful for, have the ability to think clearly and communicate easily. You can celebrate that you live in a country where you are free and safe, and with your basic needs met. In addition, there are many other aspects of your life that are specific and personal to you in terms of, for example, your relationships and a sense of purpose.

People who regularly practise this type of gratitude report that changing their way of thinking results in them gradually beginning to notice many of the other small things in life which also create joy. This provides a powerful antidote to the negativity bias that can be promoted by people around us, the media, social media and countless other aspects of our daily lives.

It doesn’t mean that you are blithely indifferent to the difficulties that exist - the problems and injustices of the world around you. It does mean, however, that you can begin to better notice and appreciate moments of goodness and resilience, and the basic humanity of those around you. This, in turn, is empowering, and counters any sense of helplessness or overwhelm in difficult times.

Research has also powerfully demonstrated that we gain even more benefit from receiving the gratitude of others. When we have have genuinely reached out and helped someone, and they in turn express their genuine thanks and gratitude to us, this has far reaching implications on our psychological and physical well-being.

So how can you create and begin a gratitude practice? It’s usually best to start in the morning, in a quiet time before you begin your usual daily activities. It only takes a couple of minutes. You can also have a period of reflection before going to sleep, celebrating the things that have gone well during the day.

Think of at least five aspects of your life in general that you are grateful for. Then add three more specific issues relevant to you and your current circumstances. Reflect on anything that you have done recently that has been of benefit to someone else, and how they have expressed their appreciation. And that’s it!

Consistency is the key. Once you make this a daily practice - either on reflection or writing in your journal, you will see how it impacts on all aspects of your daily life.

By Judith Hassell, Director, HealthPad

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