When someone expresses to you their gratefulness, it feels pretty good, doesn’t it? An act of gratitude is not passive. It is a fertile force, an energising emotional gift. We actually “feel” it. Whether we are expressing gratitude or the recipient of gratitude, something transformative happens psychologically, physiologically or socially. Knowing how gratitude is your gateway to positive wellbeing can help inspire its practice more intentionally and mindfully.
Generally speaking, we mostly tend to associate gratefulness closely with notions of appreciation, thankfulness, and kindness. When we are in the orbit of human kindness it changes our lives, just like Earth’s orbiting moon moves tides. Gratitude has this powerful creative element that kindles a reciprocal response and can ignite a desire to pay-it-forward. Therefore, even a single act of gratitude may have a ripple-effect that builds into a tsunami of goodness.
A link between gratitude and wellbeing has long been established in scientific studies. When we think of gratefulness it is easy to picture it mainly in terms of receiving something. For example, it could be seen in a gesture as simple as a “thank you” note. But gratitude has a deeper meaning. It encompasses thankfulness for satisfaction with life and in contentment of being alive. It can also flow out of appreciation of nature and the experience of one’s environment. In other words, gratitude is not limited to a transpersonal situation, it more broadly includes expression of appreciation or thankfulness towards anything that holds value and meaning for us.
Gratitude inherently has an affirming influence on mental health, especially when it fosters positive thoughts and feelings of happiness. An attribute of gratitude is its power to arouse a sense of meaningful connection with someone or something.
We may not always be aware of how much our brain is influenced by gratitude. But it actually is an activator of neural changes, a mood booster, helping us to ‘feel good’, regardless of whether we are receiving or giving gratitude. As a result, we may feel less stressed. Gratitude can also create in us a greater sense of self-worth, improve self-esteem, and therefore make us happier. No surprise then that gratitude can play a part in reducing anxiety and depression. When we are feeling positive about ourselves and our mindset is optimistic, we get inspired and motivated. This can increase the likelihood of wanting to be more productive and accomplish things.
Gratitude is like a treasure chest packed with many prospects for enriching our lives and enhancing our wellbeing. It can free us from feeling overly frustrated, help wash away our daily worries, bring light to life’s dark places, restore happiness after sadness, and connect us to others in deeper and more meaningful ways. As our gateway to positive wellbeing, gratitude should become a way of life, practiced daily to ensure enjoyment of the fullness of its benefits.
The beauty of gratitude is that it isn’t complicated. It is an attitude we choose and simple to practice. Gratitude pushes back against pervasive negativity that tends to stream into our daily lives. As you learn to live your life gratefully, you’ll find yourself becoming increasingly mindful of the ample goodness, awe and wonder in the world, which otherwise can easily go unnoticed.
This attitude of gratitude is learnable and developed by being mindfully attuned to opportunities to express it. And… it is in the actual expression of gratitude that the magic happens. However, you may never know the full extent of any ripple effect of goodness generated from the initial act. It is enough, however, to know that something transformative occurs. So, if you are ready to swing open the gate to positive wellbeing through gratitude, then consider putting these 7 ideas into practice:
- Start a journal in which you daily add notes about people, events, and other things that you value, for which you are grateful, along with ideas as to how you will express your gratitude. Where you have been the recipient of an act of gratitude, make a journal note and plan how you might reciprocate or pay-it-forward.
- Select three specific times in every 24 hours period when you will deliberately pause and ponder something for which you are grateful and express your gratitude. Make this a lifetime practice.
- Develop the habit of “smiling” at EVERY “customer service person” you approach, and “thank” them genuinely for their service. As an extension of this habit, create “a list of life-affirming phrases” that you can use to express to “customer service persons” empathy for the work they are doing, and your appreciation of their service to you. Even the most onerous person can be softened by a kindly smile and a word of appreciation. People may not remember your name, but they will almost certainly remember how you make them feel. The same principle is equally suited to workplaces where you are relying on the help and services of other workers in the performance of your job. Recognise that gratitude is a social resource to be drawn upon to strengthen relationships and influence feelings of happiness.
- Make it a goal, each month, that you write at least one letter to someone who has helped you or blessed your life in a way that you truly value. Even if you never post the letter, you will have focused your mind on positive thoughts, and by acknowledging your gratefulness, that will of itself, give support to healthy mental wellbeing.
- Start a ‘gratitude album’. Keep a dedicated album of photos for your most treasured life moments to help nourish your sense of gratefulness. Keep the album where it is easy to see and make time to look through it at least once a week. Let it be a source of inspiration and a regular reminder to keep on capturing more memorable ‘gratitude’ moments to be able to reflect upon. A similar idea would be to create a collage of these photos as a screensaver that keeps popping up on your computer screen encouraging you to live gratefully.
- Cherish the present. Live mindfully. Catch yourself from travelling through each day, hour by hour, as though your life is somehow locked on auto-pilot. Learn to focus on “now” rather than constantly worrying about future things. Train yourself to be present in the moment. Tomorrow’s troubled waters won’t be calmed by continually churning over worries today. So… slow down often, listen to the rhythm of your own breathing, and let your mind be restful. Consciously appreciate ‘just being’.
- Every day, routinely acknowledge and appreciate the beauty and diversity that exists in nature. A flower, rainbow, the sound of rain, waves washing up onto a shore, multi-coloured autumn leaves, a clear springtime sky. Consider the countless amazing creatures filling our oceans, rivers and lakes; or are roaming from valleys to mountaintops and through rainforests and jungles; or soaring and gliding through the skies above us. Be grateful too, for a loyal pet that might like to curl up next to you with an unconditional love. Be alert in our materialistic driven world to avoid allowing the more important things in life to be taken for granted. Gratitude puts everything into perspective.
Pursue the grateful life. Be that person who can see a silver lining in every situation. Irrespective of what is swirling around on the outside of us, there is always something for which we can be grateful. So, constantly challenge yourself to nurture an attitude of gratitude, and enjoy greater peace and happiness.
ROHAN WATSON is a member of the Australian Counselling Association and a general member of the International Association of Applied Neuroscience. He holds graduate and post-graduate qualifications in Psychology, Counselling and Education from Monash University and USQ, including a Master of Counselling (Advanced Practice) degree awarded with Distinction.
As a Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Mental Health Researcher, Rohan is dedicated to helping unlock the potential in people to live life happily and more purposefully. His Toowoomba Counselling & Coaching service helps people from all walks and seasons of life.
Rohan has facilitated and delivered mental health programs across rural and remote Australia. He provides professional psychotherapy services to employees at all levels nationally through EAP based services, is a highly sought-after Marriage Counsellor and Relationship Counselling specialist, and has a special interest in the online delivery of mental wellness programs. Rohan’s current research is focusing on early intervention mental wellbeing in the workplaces of Australian SMEs. Learn more.