“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” – Anonymous
There are many things that can lead us to feel the emotional response of gratitude … receiving a gift or a birthday present, receiving a heartfelt “thank you”, or having a friend or family member help us with a task or situation. Self-reflections of your life, your situation, family or friends can also leave us feeling grateful.
Gratitude can be understood in the terms of two stages:
Firstly, gratitude is the acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life. We can affirm that all things taken together, life is good and has elements that make it worth living.
Secondly, gratitude is recognising that the source of this goodness lies partially outside the self. You can be grateful for other people, to animals, and to the world, but not to oneself.
Effects of gratitude
Research has shown that gratitude has many benefits, including:
Expressing your appreciations and thanks can really improve you overall sense of well-being. Studies have shown that grateful people feel better about their lives as a whole and are more optimistic regarding their expectations for the upcoming week (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000). Furthermore, gratitude is related negatively to depression and positively to life satisfaction (Wood, Joseph, & Maltby, 2008).
Studies on the effects of practicing gratitude each day has shown that people experience not only greater levels of optimism, but also higher levels of positive affect and sense of connectedness to others (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
In a study examining the effects of writing letters of gratitude on three primary qualities of well-being; happiness, life-satisfaction, and depression, was beneficial. In particular, writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms (Toepher, Cichy, & Peters, 2011).
Ways to cultivate gratitude in your life
Here are some tips on how to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis:
Write thank-you letters. Make yourself feel happier and nurture your relationships by composing a “gratitude letter” to a person who has made a positive and lasting influence in your life. Send it, or deliver it in person so you can see their response. Try sending at least one gratitude letter a month (and once in a while, write one to yourself!).
Keep a gratitude journal. You can either do this in a notebook, or even purchase a gratitude diary. Record once a week all the things you have to be grateful for. You can make a list of each day’s little joys. This can be acknowledging the goodness of your life or recognising goodness in others.
Count your blessings. Pick a time each week to sit down and write about your blessings. Reflect on what went right in your week or what you are grateful for. You can even choose to include your family – start a conversation by asking what they are grateful for this week. Sometimes it helps to pick a number, such as three to five things you are grateful for each week.
Give back. My personal favourite! There are no shortages of charities that are seeking support from willing volunteers. Pick a charity that is close to your heart or even a small local organisation. Another way of giving back is to perform an act of kindness for someone you know, or even a stranger.