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  • Francine Habib

Attitude of Gratitude: The benefits

One of the most effective tools for affecting positive #change in mood is appreciating what is already good in our lives over what we lack. In doing so, we displace self-pity and connect to others and the world around us. We all know that we should be (and are) grateful, but how often do you make this a set task? How often do you take the everyday good for granted?

Gratitude could be defined as an appreciation of what is cherished and important to you. It has also been considered a virtue, mindset, feeling, custom or personality trait. The benefits of #gratitude have been espoused for millennia, but an increasing number of empirical studies suggest that it is more than a spiritual cliché. Psychology research has demonstrated that gratitude generates positive emotions, improves physical health, builds psychological resilience, and supports strong relationships.

The vast majority of studies show the practice of appreciation has positive outcomes on self-reported happiness and well-being such as those done by Emmons & McClough and Wood et al.

The good news is that gratitude is a skill that can be developed from whatever level it's currently at and sourced from any timeline:

  • Past: Recalling happy childhood moments and lucky escapes

  • Present: Appreciating the positives you have and (if you're really adept) even your problems

  • Future: Moving forward with optimism and confidence.

The benefits of fostering gratitude far outweigh the efforts required. They are diverse and numerous but here are a pertinent few:

Better overall health: In a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people report fewer physical discomforts and experience feeling healthier than other people. They are more likely to take care of their health by exercising regularly and monitor their health closely, leading to greater life-span.

Get quality sleep: Positive emotions stimulate the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system (the relaxation response), while negative emotions stimulate the sympathetic branch (fight-or-flight response). Several studies have linked gratitude practice at bedtime with quicker and better sleep. For example, Professor Nancy Digdon led a study where writing in a #gratitude journal for 15 minutes every evening helped students worry less at bedtime and sleep longer and better. Emmons and McCullough asked people with neuromuscular disorders to make nightly lists of things they were grateful for. Participants reported increased sleep quality and sleep duration after 3 weeks.

Boost your positivity ratio to achieve more: The positivity ratio is the frequency of positive emotions divided by the frequency of negative emotions over a given period of time. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson discovered how experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio to negative emotions leads people to higher levels of achievement. Gratitude increases our ratio by helping us experience more positive emotions such as optimism, enthusiasm, love, and happiness, while deflecting harmful ones such as fear, greed, doubt and resentment. A 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component of peak performance.

Lifting depression: Depressed individuals are often inwardly-focused and by practicing gratitude, their attention is redirected outward. This is supported by other techniques such as behavioural activation where they are encouraged to reduce their isolation and engage with the outside world. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life, but are not brought down by them as they are able to keep a wider perspective which makes room for the good things.

Gratitude enhances relationships: Grateful people are more prosocial, showing the capacity to be empathic and to understand other perspectives. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). In a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky, participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to counterattack when faced with unkind feedback. They felt a decreased need to pursue a reprisal. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Grateful individuals are less likely to judge success in terms of possessions (a major factor in low self-esteem) and are able to support others' accomplishments.

Grateful people have better relationships

You can do a test of your gratitude levels using this short questionnaire, though there are other, more detailed versions available. Techniques for enhancing gratitude and, therefore, well being are relatively simple and easy to integrate into your life:

  1. Keeping a diary about things for which to be grateful

  2. Thinking about someone for whom you are grateful

  3. Writing a letter to someone for whom you are grateful

  4. Meditating on gratitude (present moment awareness)

  5. Undertaking the “Count Your Blessings” exercise (at the end of the week, writing down three things for which you were grateful)

  6. Practicing saying “thank you” in a sincere and meaningful way

  7. Writing thank you notes

  8. If religious, praying about your gratitude

While making the effort to improve your gratitude and bring it regularly to the forefront of your mind won't take away all your problems, it can lift your mood and shape a happier you. Schedule it in.

If you'd like to get in touch about improving your mood, outlook or resilience, please get in touch through my website or on email.

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