1. Practicing gratitude, or noticing and appreciating the positive aspects of the world, has been shown to reduce mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.
2. Adopting a “gratitude attitude” has also been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation in the body, improve sleep, strengthen relationships, reduce conflict, and trigger reciprocally helpful behaviour.
In the past two decades, researchers have learned that gratitude is strongly related to all aspects of wellbeing. It has been shown to reduce mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. A person who has suffered a traumatic experience, for example, is able to recover better and even achieve a higher level of emotional wellbeing afterward if they are oriented toward noticing and appreciating the positive in the world.
Adopting a “gratitude attitude” has also been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation in the body, improve sleep, strengthen relationships, reduce conflict and trigger reciprocally helpful behavior. This last finding means that a person who shows gratitude – for a friend’s input, a home-cooked meal, a parent's help with homework – increases the likelihood that the recipient will show more care and compassion toward others. Gratitude generates kind-hearted acts, like the ripples of a pebble dropped in water.
Some of us are “sunny sky” people who notice and appreciate the positive in the world. Others dwell a bit more on the negative with a “dark cloud” outlook. Either way, we can all increase the positive mental, emotional and physical outcomes of gratitude.
Two things can help: 1) breaking gratitude down into its parts so you can see what it actually means, and 2) knowing that you can develop a stronger habit through practice.
Let’s start with understanding the parts of gratitude. Researchers have identified a handful of aspects of gratitude, which include:
- Appreciation of other people: “I’m lucky to have David as a friend/teammate/brother.”
- A focus on what you currently have: “I’m thankful for my family/for the healthy food available/for a safe and warm home.”
- Feelings of awe when encountering beauty: “This waterfall is a wonder!”
- Focusing on the positive in the present moment: “I’m going to sit here on this park bench for a moment and take in the autumn colors.”
- Appreciation arising from understanding that life is short: “I will die and people I know will die, so this day matters so much.”
- Positive social comparisons: “There are so many people who have less than I do.”
Considering this list, you can see that gratitude is not naïve, immature or disconnected from reality. In fact, it’s mostly generated from the very real, sometimes even serious, features of our lives.
Today's POWER-UP: Practice Daily Gratitude
1. EXPRESSING GRATITUDE: WHEN I WAS WORKING WITH THE NATIONAL SWIM TEAM, WE SPENT A LOT OF TIME ON THE ROAD AT TRAINING CAMPS AND COMPETITIONS. THESE SITUATIONS CAN BECOME STRESSFUL. A KEY HABIT WE DEVELOPED IN DAILY MEETINGS WAS TO HAVE EACH TEAM MEMBER SAY WHAT SOMEONE ELSE HAD DONE TO HELP THEM THAT DAY. EXPRESSING GRATITUDE HELPED TO BRING THE TEAM TOGETHER AND MAKE EVERYONE HAPPIER. SCIENCE NOW BACKS THIS UP. PRACTICING DAILY GRATITUDE FOR ANYTHING HELPS YOU RECOGNIZE THE GOOD PARTS OF LIFE AND APPRECIATE THEM EVEN MORE.
2. GRATITUDE JOURNAL: THE IDEA IS THAT AT THE END OF EVERY DAY WE WRITE DOWN 3-5 THINGS THAT WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR THAT DAY. LIKE GRATITUDE ITSELF, THIS IS NOT A "FLAKEY" IDEA. RESEARCHERS HAVE IDENTIFIED KEEPING A JOURNAL AS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL GRATITUDE INTERVENTIONS. IT'S EASY TO DO, IT TAKES LITTLE TIME, AND IT REALLY WORKS. THE ONLY TRICK IS TO KEEP IT UP. IT CAN BE HELPFUL TO MAKE A PACT WITH A FRIEND OR TO BELONG TO A GROUP THAT ENGAGES IN THE ACTIVITY.