When times are dark, it can feel difficult to find things to be thankful for. However, paying attention to what it is that we appreciate in life and feel grateful for can help to retrain your brain to achieve a greater sense of well-being. The healing power of gratitude can have numerous positive effects whether you’re recovering from an addiction or are looking for a boost in the happiness department.
Gratitude isn’t a term that we come across all that often, so it is helpful to start with a definition. The Oxford English Dictionary defines gratitude as ‘the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness’. Gratitude, therefore, is not solely about giving thanks but allowing your appreciation to manifest in a returned act of kindness.
The evidence behind the healing power of gratitude
Research into the power of gratitude is relatively new, however, some pivotal studies have shone a light on the benefit of this positive character trait. Wood et al (2010) consolidated numerous studies into the power of gratitude and summarised that gratitude is linked to a variety of forms of well-being, improved relationships, and also physical health benefits including improved sleep. This study also highlighted how using techniques for cultivating gratitude have been used successfully in clinical therapy, recommending that this be developed further.
More recent research from the University of Zurich has also linked gratitude with increased life satisfaction. One study looked at the link between character strengths and their impact on an individual’s subjective well-being. They found that gratitude ranked highly in terms of linking this character strength with life satisfaction, particularly for those in the older age bracket of the study.
How to cultivate the healing power of gratitude
During difficult periods in our lives, it can be, understandably, hard to feel grateful and it may seem impossible to focus on the positives in your life. Here are some ways to cultivate the power of gratitude that you can practice in your everyday life and soon be reaping the rewards of.
- Recognize small wins
Being grateful doesn’t solely relate to the acts of others, it is also associated with celebrating your own achievements and being grateful for them. This can feel like an uphill struggle if you’re recovering from an addiction or going through a period of poor mental health. Despite this, the small wins you do achieve when you’re feeling at your lowest ebb are something that you should be incredibly proud of.
Looking at what you have achieved in a given day is a good place to start. Getting out of bed in the morning, making your breakfast, going for a walk in the garden are all achievements and acts in which to take pride and gratitude from. Being kind to yourself is an important part of this process. It can be so easy to criticize yourself for not achieving what you think you should be doing that the small wins can pass you by. In recognizing even the small achievements in your life, it can help to silence your critical inner voice and be grateful for what you are doing rather than focusing on what you’re not.
- Write down what you are grateful for
Putting your thoughts and feelings down on paper is never a bad thing. It can help to get out emotions that you find difficult to vocalize and help to put hopes and fears into perspective. The act of putting pen to paper can also help to summarize what it is that you feel grateful for in your life and pave the way for highlighting the people, activities, and places that bring you the most happiness. In this way, writing down what you are grateful for not only helps you to identify areas in your life that are good, it can also encourage you to do more of what makes you happy. Another benefit of having a written record of what you’re grateful for is that you can turn to it whenever you are feeling your mind wandering down a negative path.
- Practice mindfulness in the open air
The practice of mindfulness has multiple benefits. Within the context of this article, it helps you to bring your mind to the present moment, focus your attention, and feel gratitude for your body, mind, and what is around you. If you can, practicing mindfulness in nature is an excellent way of paying attention to your surroundings and feeling gratitude for both what you witness and for your ability to be in that moment.
Stepping outside and using all of your senses is a way to practice mindfulness in nature. Taking the time to look, smell, touch, and hear your natural surroundings will help you to appreciate the wonders of the natural world and be grateful for your place in it. It’s amazing what you see when you pay attention to it and what can pass you by when your mind is elsewhere.
- Express your gratitude
Feeling grateful within yourself for what you have and what you are able to do is a great place to start in cultivating the healing power of gratitude. When you feel ready, expressing the gratitude you feel towards others is also a highly beneficial process. It can be so easy to take friends, family, or colleagues for granted. Taking the time to thank someone and make it known to them how their actions have a positive impact on your life can be hugely rewarding. You will no doubt receive some reciprocal gratitude in response.
It is important to note that cultivating the power of gratitude is not intended to minimize the experiences of those who are undergoing extreme hardship whether it be physically, emotionally, or economically. Rather, it is in identifying areas that we can be grateful for that can help us to get through difficult periods. Creating a habit of recognizing aspects of your life that you feel grateful for is a positive step in helping to sustain well-being and increased life satisfaction.