The Secret of Gratitude – how practising gratitude can make you happier and healthier
Modern life can seem like a constant battle to achieve the things we want and get where we want to be in life. In fact, the media bombards us with a continual stream of advertising designed to make us desire the things we don’t yet have. Sometimes, we fail to see what we should feel gratitude for.
Living in a state of discontent isn’t healthy, either physically or mentally. In the face of this pressure, it’s easy to lose focus on the things we already have and the goals we have already achieved. Researchers have now discovered that regularly practising gratitude is beneficial to our health.
The benefits of gratitude
“Making gratitude a daily practice is like taking a vitamin,” says David DeSteno, PhD, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University in Boston. DeSteno is the author of book, ‘Emotional Success‘.
Another expert on the gratitude phenomenon, Robert Emmons PhD, from the University of California, has studied the benefits of gratitude for over 15 years. In one study, he asked a group of volunteers to write down five things they were grateful for once a week for 10 weeks. He also asked another group to write down things that caused them problems. At the end of the study, the group recording things they were grateful for during the week, reported feeling 25 percent happier than the group recording their problems. Interestingly, the people who practiced gratitude spent 30 percent more time exercising and had fewer health complaints.
A study in 2015, reported in the ‘Journal of Health Psychology’, found that people who recorded things they were grateful for over two weeks slept better. They also had lower blood pressure readings than a test group who didn’t keep a gratitude journal.
Still more research found that gratitude journaling resulted in a 40 percent drop in daily smoking rates in a study group after two months. Practising gratitude has also been found to improve the presentation of certain heart conditions. It can also reduce inflammation, a major cause of problems for our bodies.
How to practice gratitude
So, we know that gratitude is good for us. But how do we practice gratitude? It’s actually very simple. We tend to focus on the big things in life when we think about what we are grateful for. These generally include home, health, family, money and career. This isn’t always easy when things aren’t going as well as we might like them to. The trick is to focus on the smaller pleasures in life.
For example, some participants in the research mentioned above-listed things like “the sun on my skin today in the garden” or “a stranger held a door open for me’ or ‘a smile from my granddaughter”. By focussing on the smaller events that make us momentarily happy and grateful, we become more sensitive to the fact that our lives are indeed littered with tiny happinesses. This helps us identify them in what can feel like a sea of pressure and disappointments.
Keeping a Gratitude Journal
To facilitate the practice of gratitude, researchers found that the best method is to keep what is called a ‘Gratitude Journal‘. This, very simply, is a diary in which you record only what you are grateful for. This can be done on a daily basis or weekly. The process of focussing on these events increases your awareness of them.
Try keeping a Gratitude Journal for three weeks. According to researchers, this habit makes you not only feel happier but healthier too. Let us know how you get on!
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