Gratitude – All You Need to Know

Nov 9, 2020

Elizabeth Houghton

Sutton Full Potential Founder

We’re heading into the holiday season soon, and it’s that time of the year when many feel overwhelmed or lost with feelings of anxiety, depression and sadness. While it is true that seeking professional help might be extremely helpful, there is another simple practice that can aid in uplifting your spirit. That tool is called ‘gratitude.’

Dwelling deeper on gratitude

The word that’s been around forever has its origins in Spain. It is derived from ‘gratia,’ meaning grace, gratefulness or graciousness. Gratitude is essentially an umbrella word for all these feelings. It is an act of appreciation on the part of an individual who is the recipient of something, regardless of whether it is tangible or not.

Today, we live in a highly stressful world, where there is uncertainty related to various aspects of life- job, relationships and health being a few of them. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that young people across the globe are becoming prone to mental health problems, especially depression and severe anxiety. These can eventually cause grave damage to your personality and natural way of being. Joy, peace, contentment and happiness are goals that many of us seek, and the tools to achieve these goals might be infinite. But sometimes, there is an easier and simpler way to get there, and in this article, we’re going to explore one such simple tool/practice – Gratitude.

There are several things that may evoke gratitude or positive feelings leading to appreciation inside an individual. These can help people find meaning and improve their health.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it:

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

This is a useful introduction to practicing gratitude in our daily lives. Gratitude, as an emotion, may mirror appreciation. There is enough psychological research to prove that people could really benefit from expressing gratefulness for both small and big things in their lives. This is true even when times are challenging.

Defining gratitude

So, what does gratitude mean? Does it mean you always look at the ‘rosier’ picture? Certainly not. It also does not mean that you need to believe that everything in your life is wonderful. What gratitude simply means is this- being aware of every blessing and appreciating the smaller things in your life that may otherwise take for granted. It can start with basic acknowledgment and move on to appreciation too.

How does being grateful help? Well, it helps shift the focus of your lens, so that you can see what you already have rather than what you lack. It is not uncommon for us to overlook the great things around us, things that make our lives meaningful. Instead, we end up dwelling on what is ‘wrong’ or think about things that are not currently achievable or available to us.

Frederick Keong says, “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”

By acknowledging the good things that life has to offer, people slowly begin to understand that root of those good things may often lie outside of them. This ultimately helps connect with something that’s bigger than themselves. This connection could be with nature, other people or even some higher power.

Research on positive psychology suggests that gratitude is consistently and strongly associated with increased happiness. Gratitude may help people feel positive emotions, better their health, enjoy good experiences, build stronger relationships and deal with adverse situations.

There are multiple ways in which people can feel gratitude and express it. They may go back to past situations and retrieve positive memories, while expressing thanks for their healthy and nurturing childhood. Similarly, they may show gratitude for their present, e.g. good fortune. Maintaining an optimistic and hopeful attitude towards the future is a way of expressing gratitude for the future. Irrespective of the current or inherent level of an individual’s gratitude, it is possible for them to cultivate it further.

Benefits of gratitude

There are studies to show that feeling gratitude could significantly increase our levels of happiness, almost by 25 per cent. Practicing gratitude on a regular basis has been associated with several emotional and physical benefits and has shown to better the quality of life. This is a list of just a few benefits you may experience as a result of practicing gratitude:

  • Improves physical health
  • Helps improve social interactions and relationships in general
  • Helps improve sleep quality
  • Builds stronger immunity
  • Enhances mental health
  • Decreases depression levels
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Minimizes aggression and improves the ability to empathize
  • Gives you the motivation to participate in activities, whether sports, games or group conversations
  • Enhances mental alertness
  • Improves resilience so that you have better ability to deal with stress
  • Makes you less materialistic and self-centred
  • Equips you make better and healthier lifestyle choices

Let’s get into greater detail with regards to how gratitude can benefit us.

Celebrating the present

Gratitude is proven to magnify positive emotions. There is research to show that it takes very less time for positive emotions to wear off. Your emotional system craves newness, change and novelty. We’re very quick to adapt to positive things in life, but it doesn’t take too long for the excitement around a new car, new house or new spouse to wear off. In such situations, gratitude plays a huge role in helping us appreciate the importance and value of things. When you do that, you extract greater benefits from them, instead of taking them for granted.

Gratitude can help block negative emotions

When we say negative emotions, we’re essentially referring to emotions like regret, resentment and envy. These are the emotions that typically destroy our inherent happiness. There is research to suggest that gratitude may reduce the duration and frequency of periods of depression. What really makes sense in all of this is that it is impossible to feel grateful and envious simultaneously because these feelings are incompatible.

Grateful people can manage stress with greater resistance

Multiple studies show that when faced with serious challenges, trauma, suffering and adversity, people with a grateful attitude have the power to recover in a shorter time period. Gratitude offers you a different perspective of interpreting the negative events in your life and helps guard you against lingering anxiety and long-term trauma.

Gratitude increases your self-esteem

When you become habitual of expressing gratitude, you feel like there is a power that’s taking care of you. You believe that your well-being is already provided for and you are able to notice people in your present and from your past. These are the people who have helped you reach your current position in life. When you acknowledge the contributions made by others in your life, you begin to understand that others have recognized your value and this can help change your own perception of yourself.

Techniques to practice daily gratitude

It is not very difficult to incorporate gratitude into different parts of your daily life. It is in fact, among the easiest tools to improve your life experiences. These are some ideas that could help you start out on your journey of gratitude:

Maintain a dedicated gratitude journal

Most of you may have heard about how people maintain journals to note down their feelings, emotions, experiences and other things. Similarly, a journal that is specifically meant for practicing gratitude can also be maintained. In this journal, you can simply jot down some things every day as a routine. You might feel slightly strange working with a gratitude journal in the beginning. But once it becomes a habit, it won’t take much effort or thought to review the positive things in your life. The idea here is to train your brain to start looking for all the positives. You will slowly begin to finish (or start) your day feeling thankful, instead of dwelling on negative things.

Reach out to people

Think about when somebody in your life did a very kind or special thing for you. They may have offered you support when you were in need and you many not have thanked them enough. You can now take the time out to send them a gratitude note or call them to convey your appreciation. Not only will the person receiving the note/call feel happy, but expressing gratitude will also benefit you in several ways.

Develop an attitude to practice gratitude

It takes time, persistence and practice to maintain a cheery or positive attitude. It is very easy to go back to your old negative behavior and internal dialogue when things go bad. Hence, you would need to make a constant conscious attempt to retrain how you think. When something upsetting or bad happens, you’re equipped to express gratitude for something in your life.

You could also express gratitude during meal times and make it a family tradition.

Why you need gratitude in your life

Gratitude can help people in several ways, for example to strengthen current relationships or to build new ones. This emotion can also help you make amends to your loved ones and offer support to those in need. Alternatively, some people might feel grateful because it could be an inherently rewarding process.

By simply expressing gratefulness for life, you could motivate yourself to seize each and every day. The fact is that nobody is guaranteed a tomorrow, and this could be a powerful motivator for people to give their best each day.

Practicing gratitude requires selflessness. It is similar to offering unconditional love to someone, to let people know that you appreciate them, and their presence in your life. This is a gift you freely give to others. For instance, if a loved one is feeling sad, you could send them an appreciation note, without expecting anything in return. This is basically an act of reminding them that they are valued and you’re grateful for their precious existence.

With regular practice of gratitude, you’ll experience improvements in both your physical and psychological health over a period of time. These include a boost in your immune system, lesser pains and aches, reduced blood pressure, better sleep and the willingness and energy to exercise. You may also feel more pleasure and joy and increased levels of positivity. People also report that gratitude has played a huge role in helping them become more forgiving and compassionate towards others.

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