Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard someone say “You should be grateful for what you have!” I certainly have. Is it true that we should be grateful for the things that we have? How can being grateful improve our life and our wellbeing? Well, let me explain it.
The concept of gratitude
First things first: what is gratitude? According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, gratitude is “the feeling of being grateful and wanting to express your thanks.” This concept is made of two parts:
- State gratitude, defined as “an affective-cognitive state based on the ability to be empathic.”
- Trait gratitude, defined as a propensity to be grateful for the positive in the world.
As you can imagine, grateful people tend to be very positive.
Seeing the world from a brighter perspective doesn’t hurt. If someone’s not a very positive person per se, there are some gratitude practices that can help them rethink their approach to the world.
Gratitude interventions are exercises that can help us focus our attention on the positive things in life instead of the negative ones. Does this mean that we shouldn’t consider the negative things? Absolutely not. The world is full of problems and we must face them. But focusing only on those problems can be disheartening. Not all problems are imminent.
There are three main exercises that can help us learn how to see the world from a more positive perspective.
Grab a diary, an agenda, or even a piece of paper and write. We can journal regularly about the people we see, the things we experience, and the events we feel most grateful for. They don’t have to be complicated or over-elaborated things. One can be grateful even for a simple dinner with their family or a walk to the park.
This practice is similar to the journaling one but we write letters to someone we’re grateful for in life, even if we don’t normally talk. Then we can decide whether we want to give them the letter or not.
Three Good Things
This exercise simply consists of writing three things we’re grateful for every set period — it can be one list a day, a week, every other week, or anytime we want. This way we push ourselves to see the positive even in a period when we think everything is falling apart.
Let me start. Today I’m grateful for three things:
- I’m getting better at weight lifting.
- My family is well.
- My dog’s throat problem is improving.
As we can see, they’re not overly complicated things. I didn’t go skydiving nor did I get my degree (yet). But this is what made me happy today. Happiness is made of little things.
Generally people prefer to write a gratitude journal over gratitude letters because they find it way easier. Although it’s true that finding the words to express our feelings to another person can be more challenging compared to writing for ourselves, there are no good or wrong practices. We can choose to whom and how we want to express our gratitude.
The benefits of gratitude
Back to the article’s opening question. Should we be grateful for what we have? Short answer, yes. There are people who have nothing and there are people who have everything. But there is a middle ground.
Our lives will never be perfect, no matter what we do. But we can learn to be grateful for the imperfect. It can benefit us in many ways.
The physical benefits of gratitude
Although results from different studies present diverse outcomes, there’s a growing consensus that gratitude can help us feel physically better.
For example, people who struggle with pain are more likely to feel it less intensely if they believe that people willingly want to help them. This means that they tend to see the good in people regardless of the situation. Basically, they see the world from a more positive point of view.
One thing many professionals agree on is the fact that gratitude can help us improve our sleep quality. In fact, a small gratitude journaling intervention can help us sleep better in a relatively short period of time, just a couple of weeks.
The mental benefits of gratitude
Mental health is a very sensitive topic that should be addressed thoughtfully. Suffering from mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, can be highly detrimental for one’s health. Since the number of people who experience such feelings is rising, finding new ways to improve our mental health should be one of our main priorities.
There are different ways in which we can try to improve our mental health, and gratitude interventions are one of these. In fact, they can help reduce depression, anxiety, and stress levels, contributing to a significant improvement in quality of life and overall wellbeing.
The emotional benefits of gratitude
Linked to mental health is the concept of emotional wellbeing. Those who are able to better understand and manage their emotions are more likely to lead a better and healthier life.
Positive emotions are a very powerful tool we can use to improve our overall wellbeing. They can help us improve our relationships with other people, increase creativity and efficient cognitive processes, enable flexibility when thinking about new ways to deal with stress and adversity, and help us fight negative emotions more efficiently.
The majority of studies agree on the fact that numerous gratitude practices help improve emotional wellbeing and prevent it from declining.
The social benefits of gratitude
Social relationships are fundamental to wellbeing. What’s that one place where the majority of people spend a large part of their time? Probably the workplace. Having good social health at the workplace plays a huge role in overall wellbeing.
Workplace mistreatment is a term used to describe several behaviours, such as criticizing others behind their back, making rude comments, or ignoring other people. This problem is bigger than what one might anticipate. Across 34 countries, the percentage of workplace mistreatment situations ranged from 34 to 79 per cent.
Gratitude interventions are a great tool for enhancing wellbeing and reducing workplace mistreatment. Journaling can help reduce uncivil behaviours and gossip practices, as well as prevent colleagues from excluding one another.
The benefits of gratitude interventions, however, aren’t limited to the workplace. In fact, gratitude can help us voice relationship concerns more openly, and can help us feel more appreciated as well as appreciate our significant other more. All of this leads to a better and healthier relationship.
As we’ve seen throughout the article, gratitude is almost a magical concept. It can benefit us in many ways. I know it may sound impossible at first but trying to improve our life and health doesn’t have to be dangerous. You can try to journal, write a letter, or write a list. Anything you want.
The worst thing that can happen is that nothing happens.
But the impossible might happen, too.