Discover how the simple practise of gratitude can bring a host of different benefits to your life as we explore the importance of being grateful.
During difficult times, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed or drained by life. Negative feelings and thoughts can creep in, which can make it difficult to see the positives. However, one simple practice, gratitude, can help to alleviate these feelings. We take a look at the importance of being grateful.
Despite being a simple concept, gratitude can make us happier, healthier, and more settled in ourselves. We explore what gratitude means and the benefits it can bring, along with some practical tips for being grateful.
What is gratitude?
Let’s start with a gratitude definition. You’re probably familiar with expressing gratefulness by saying ‘thank you’ when someone does something nice for you. Yet it’s a more nuanced concept than simply expressing thanks.
Gratitude is defined as a positive emotional reaction that serves a biological purpose. It’s the appreciation of the valuable and meaningful things in our lives. As one of the world’s leading experts in gratitude, Robert Emmons, explains in his essay on gratitude:
“It’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”
However, he also points out that there is another element to being grateful:
“We recognise that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
As we’ll see, there are many different gratitude practices out there that can help you hone these skills. What’s more, the benefits of doing so can be quite remarkable.
Why is gratitude important?
While we’ll get into the specific benefits of being grateful further down, it’s worth mentioning the overall importance of gratitude. Although it can appear to some as a little bit of a woolly term, there is actually a body of scientific evidence that demonstrates its effectiveness.
Countless studies have shown that gratitude can bring a variety of physical, psychological, emotional and social benefits. It helps us appreciate all the positive elements of our lives and the people in it.
While it might not be a panacea or cure-all for everything, gratitude can help to keep us grounded and feeling positive, particularly in times of uncertainty.
Many of us are familiar with feelings of dissatisfaction – we feel that our lives are incomplete and lacking in the things we crave. At such times, it’s easy to compare yourself to the idyllic-seeming lives of others and judge yourself to be lacking. The simple practice of gratitude can help to alleviate these feelings.
Is gratitude right for everyone?
Before we get into some of the research and facts behind gratitude, it’s important to take a moment to discuss whether practising gratitude is right for everyone. Although there is a lot of evidence that highlights the benefits of this practice, it isn’t the answer for everyone.
Studies suggest that we each have a level of ‘trait gratitude’, which determines how grateful we can feel. Factors such as genetics, culture, and personality impact this level. It’s not known exactly whether a person can ‘train’ themselves to experience more gratitude.
Similarly, the endless pursuit of happiness can be draining, and life can throw up painful moments without warning. Although there are many benefits of practising gratitude, it may not be suitable for everyone. Do not be discouraged if you don’t feel the effects, and be sure to discuss any mental health issues with your doctor or other medical professional.
The benefits of gratitude
Let’s take a look at some of the specific and evidence-backed benefits of gratitude. While there are actually quite a few, we’ve picked out some of the most notable ones below. The benefits of practising gratitude include:
It can make you happier
A 2003 study found that those who practised gratitude reported ‘considerably more satisfaction with their lives as a whole.’ They felt more optimism about the future, as well as more connection with others. The study concluded that participating in gratitude resulted in substantial and consistent improvements in an individual’s perception of their wellbeing.
Evidently, gratitude and happiness are closely linked. Those searching for a path to happiness might want to consider how being grateful can help.
It can improve your mental wellbeing
When it comes to your mental health, gratitude goes beyond just happiness. Studies have shown that being grateful can make you more optimistic, improve your mood, and even lower rates of stress and depression.
However, a recent study found that the benefits of gratitude interventions had a limited impact on reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. As we mentioned earlier, it’s not a cure-all and shouldn’t replace medical advice.
That being said, if you are working to manage your mental health and stress, gratitude could still play a part. Just be sure to always discuss your mental health issues with your doctor or health professional.
For those looking to learn more about depression and low mood in young people, we have a course that can help you identify coping strategies. Similarly, our ExpertTrack on Psychology can help you explore the links between mind and behaviour.
It can improve your physical health
So far, we’ve spoken about gratitude as an internal and emotional concept. However, there is evidence to suggest that it can also bring about positive impacts on your physical health. One study from 2014 showed a positive correlation between gratitude and self-reported physical health, propensity for healthy activities, and a willingness to seek help for health concerns. There were further links between gratitude and healthy activities.
If you’re interested in the connection between physical and mental health, our course Integrating Care: Depression, Anxiety and Physical Illness can help you explore the subject further.
It can increase your self-esteem
One of the markers of long-term wellbeing is self-esteem – an individual’s opinion of their own worth. A 2011 study found that grateful contemplation could be used as a tool to increase satisfaction with life and self-esteem.
For those interested in ideas of self-esteem and self-worth, our course on body neutrality and body image with Jameela Jamil provides a fascinating insight into self-love.
It can enhance positive emotions
As well as being a positive emotion in itself, gratitude also tends to bring out the best in other sensations. Research from 2017, positive emotions allow people to build psychological, intellectual, and social resources. What’s more, practices such as gratitude may play a role in motivating individuals to engage in positive behaviours leading to self-improvement.
The study found evidence that expressing gratitude helps people with emotions such as connectedness, elevation, and humility. All of these, along with other aspects, are crucial to maintaining a mindful life.
It can help you make friends
Gratitude is part of our biology, and its likely predecessor, reciprocity, is still seen throughout nature. These mechanisms allow us to exchange things for the mutual benefit of both parties. When someone does something nice for us, our brains react to make us want to repay the favour, meaning we care for others and others care about us.
Research has shown that even something as small as thanking a new acquaintance for their help can make a social relationship more likely. What’s more, other studies have shown that being grateful towards your partner can boost your romantic relationships.
It can improve your sleep
We’ve already seen that gratefulness is a positive trait that can help to improve your mental and physical wellbeing. However, there is also evidence showing that it can improve your sleep quality.
Those who are struggling with their sleep will know how difficult it can make life, so any practice that can improve your sleep will be welcome.
It can boost your career
Gratitude can make you more helpful, more compassionate, and more forgiving. Several studies have suggested that practising gratitude can also make you more satisfied with your job. All of these are positive traits for the workplace, but the evidence doesn’t end there.
A 2016 study found that gratitude and respect in the workplace can help employees feel valued and welcomed in an organisation. Similarly, a 2015 study highlighted that gratitude also helps people find meaning in their jobs.
It can help you deal with hardship
A recent study at Eastern Washington University explored the link between gratefulness and dealing with difficult experiences. Participants were asked to recall and report on an unpleasant open memory. Those who thought about the positive experiences generally responded more positively than those who only thought about the memory in general terms.
The study found that those with gratitude ‘showed more memory closure, less unpleasant emotional impact, and less intrusiveness of the open memory’ than others.
If you are dealing with difficult times, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may find one of our online courses can help.
How to practise gratitude
The benefits of gratitude and being grateful are clear. So how do we go about tapping into these benefits? Well, there are several exercises and methods that you can implement to practise gratitude. We’ve picked out some of the most common ways to be more grateful:
- Meditation. A 2017 study found that gratitude meditation can improve emotion regulation and self-motivation. You can read our guide to morning meditation to find out about how the practice works. Gratitude meditation focuses on being thankful for various elements of your life and the world around you.
- Gratitude mapping. If you’re a visual learner, this is the perfect way to express gratitude. You create a visual mood board that contains all of the things you’re grateful for. Once you’ve made it, you place it somewhere prominent to remind yourself to be thankful every day.
- Gratitude jars. Another visual method of practising gratitude is to write down short notes of the things you’re grateful for and keeping them in a jar or container. Not only does this give you a visual manifestation of the things you’re thankful for, but you can also read the notes back when you need a reminder.
Perhaps the most common and effective way to practise being grateful is through a journal. Essentially, this is just like writing a diary, except rather than recounting the day’s events, you record the things that you’re grateful for.
This isn’t something you need to do every day. Evidence suggests that one to three times per week may be sufficient. When you write your gratitude journal, you should record five to ten things that you’re grateful for.
You don’t have to write loads – your gratitude diary could be as simple as a list of bullet points for that particular day. However, when you get the hang of it, you might want to expand a little. Towards the end of this article, you’ll find a gratitude journal template that can help to guide you.
You can read more about how to make gratitude a habit with our open step.
Of course, it might not be that easy to identify things to be thankful for. Below, we’ve highlighted some gratitude journal prompts that can help you across all ways of expressing gratefulness. If you’re looking for gratitude examples, these can help:
- Simple pleasures. Think about some of the everyday things that you take joy in. A nice cup of coffee, your favourite song on the radio, a particularly cosy jumper. Anything that has brought you pleasure can be celebrated.
- Happy memories. It doesn’t have to be in there here and now; you could focus on positive moments from the past. Memorable days, happy events, or times when you’ve felt content are all worth being grateful for.
- Important people. Your friends, family, and even your colleagues can play a big role in your life. Think about the people whose love and support has helped you through difficult times and those who have been there with you for the good times.
- Nature. The world around us is full of wonder and beauty. Consider something from your environment that you find appealing or amazing, or simply enjoyable. The warm sun on your face, the smell of freshly cut grass, or the beauty of Spring’s first bloom.
- Acts of kindness. If someone has done something nice for you, no matter how small, being grateful can enhance your positive feelings. Similarly, if you’ve carried out a kind act, celebrate the mutually shared experience.
- Accomplishments. Throughout your life, you will have worked towards goals, mastered skills, and demonstrated your abilities. Highlighting these accomplishments can help to boost your self-esteem.
- Tranquil moments. Be grateful for the time you have to reflect on life or the moments where you can relax and take in all that’s around you. They don’t need to be incredible or extra special; you can still express gratitude for them.
Gratitude journal template
If you’re looking for an example of a gratitude journal template, you can find a rough outline below. It gives a number of different prompts that you can use to start writing about your day and the things you’re grateful for. Remember, you don’t have to write loads, and you don’t have to do it every single day. All you need is a blank notebook and a spare few minutes.
What happened in your day today?
(Write about a few of the things you did)
What positive things happened?
(Write 3-5 good moments from your day, no matter how simple)
What would you miss if it wasn’t there?
(Write down a couple of things that you’d be sad to have missing from your life)
What are you grateful for today?
(Write 1-3 things that you’re thankful for in your life from today)
A gratitude journal can be that simple. You don’t have to fill each section in every time you write, and you shouldn’t stress about what to put in there. Some days you might be too tired to write it, while others you might forget. That’s totally fine. Eventually, it’ll become a habit, and hopefully, you’ll start to feel the benefits of gratitude.
Throughout this post, we’ve looked at the power of gratitude. There is a huge body of evidence to suggest that it can bring many benefits to our mental and physical health, as well as other areas of life. Although it might not be right for everyone, and it certainly isn’t a ‘cure’, gratitude and happiness are closely linked.
Hopefully, we’ve given you some inspiration about how you can practise gratitude at home. Whether it’s through a gratitude journal or other method, celebrating the positive elements of life can be beneficial.
We’ve also picked out lots of useful courses around psychology, mental health and wellbeing to help you learn about some of the mechanisms behind the way we think and feel.