The Attitude of Gratitude: giving thanks is good for us
At HFEH Mind we do something called Wellbeing Wednesday tips. Every week, we ask someone different across our teams to reflect on what keeps them happy and well. This is then shared across the whole organisation for some mid-week inspiration.
After hitting a wall when it came to writing a blog post, I realised that there’s value in sharing what works for me. So today I’m talking about gratitude – something that I practice regularly and especially during stressful and difficult times, as a way to support my mental health.
You may think of gratitude as one of those ‘fluffy’ buzzwords. It links with wider self-care activities – another buzzword many people view simply as a hashtag on Instagram not to be taken seriously. However, self-care is any activity that we do deliberately to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. And in that sense, it’s incredibly important and plays a huge part in enhancing our resilience.
It’s safe to say that most people, if not all, are on that pursuit of happiness. Job satisfaction, a loving family, healthy and productive relationships, inner peace, freedom and adventure – whatever happiness looks like to you. However, in this indefinite pursuit of happiness, how often do we spare a minute to be genuinely thankful for what we already have?
In its simplest form, gratitude refers to a ‘state of thankfulness’ or a ‘state of being grateful’. In positive psychology, gratitude is a way of acknowledging the good things of life. Thanking others, thanking ourselves, Mother Nature, or indeed a much higher force – gratitude can enlighten the mind.
Appreciating what you have can have a healing effect, and can allow you to experience less frustration, envy, and regret. Personally, I’m somebody who experiences frequent imposter-syndrome. Not feeling quite good enough is something I have to manage daily. However, my gratitude practice helps. It forces me to reflect upon my mood, my relationships, my accomplishments – and clarify my priorities. What have I achieved so far that allows me to feel good right now? What am I thankful to have experienced? What everyday things do I have access to that I shouldn’t take for granted?
There’s no denying that gratitude in all forms is associated with happiness. Whether we say ‘thank you’ to someone or receive the same from others, we feel satisfied. Neural mechanisms that are responsible for feelings of gratitude have grabbed attention of researchers for years. Some studies have shown that when we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin – two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can strengthen these neural pathways until it becomes a more natural state of being.
Now there’s also research that suggests gratitude can counteract depression, as well as support your physical health. The jury is still out on those studies – please do take them with a pinch of salt – practicing gratitude is certainly not the be all and end all of life satisfaction. However, I’ve found that it’s one method that allows me to appreciate life as I know it – and has been especially valuable to me at the moment. I’ve outlined some quick tips below for developing your own practice:
Invest in a journal
Disclaimer: I’ve always been a big fan of the journal and getting my thoughts and feelings out of my head and onto paper. Your journal doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive – it just has to be yours. You’ll invest more of your time and energy into something when you feel a connection to it.
Find the right notepad or book that compels you to use it every day, and then keep it somewhere you typically frequent – perhaps on your nightstand so you’ll see it before you go to sleep or when you wake up each morning.
Set a realistic goal
Be realistic about how many things you’re thankful for – this will likely change with your mood that day. Try starting with five things and building from there. Sometimes you’ll approach your list feeling rubbish, and the idea of being thankful will seem ridiculous. When this has happened to me, I’ve written down that I’m grateful to actually be making the time.
Write it by hand (if you can!)
Try and keep things old school with your gratitude journal. I’ve found that there’s something about the kinetic process of writing it down by hand that allows me to be a bit more aware and thoughtful. However, a gratitude list should be something you want to do, not a chore. So if typing up 5 things on your computer helps you maintain the practice then do it! Don’t give up all together if you feel your habit slipping – switch your approach.
By Amy Woodward
Posted on: 18th June 2020