The Benefits of Being Grateful and How to Overcome Difficulties With Expressing Thanks
Having manners and saying ‘thank you’ was probably ingrained in you as a child. It’s the polite and courteous thing to do, right? But how often do you really feel grateful, deep in your heart, and express it?
The emotion of gratitude is felt when we become aware of a positive benefit that has come our way, but we didn’t necessarily earn or deserve it. It’s a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life.
Gratitude is a selfless act. It is done unconditionally, to show to people that they are appreciated. For example, if someone is sad and you write them a note of appreciation, you are likely not asking for something in return for this person; instead, you are reminding them of their value, and expressing gratitude for their existence. At the moment, you are not waiting for a ‘return note’ from this person.
Even when we do not expect a return, sometimes they happen. Gratitude can be contagious, in a good way. In the previous example, maybe when you are down, this person will write you a note too.
According to the latest research in positive psychology, opening yourself up to truly experience the feeling of gratitude, and intentionally express your thankfulness to other people, has some amazing benefits in all areas of wellness.
7 Benefits of Having a Gratitude Attitude
- 1. Improves mood
- 2. Improves physiological health, by way of heart rhythms and sleep patterns
- 3. Reduces physical symptoms, such as headaches and colds
- 4. Increases cognitive functioning, including memory
- 5. Increases alertness, determination and energy
- 6. Provides a greater sense of being connected to others
- 7. Tends to motivate others to express gratitude, thus starting a virtuous cycle
So, it might be nothing new to hear that expressing gratitude to others can have positive effects on your mood and mental wellbeing, but did you know that it also boosts your immune system?
Serotonin is a naturally occurring neurochemical that has a calming, mood-regulating and anti-anxiety effect. During gratitude practice, your brain increases the production of serotonin, thereby improving your immune system.
To add to this, the hypothalamus, or the part of your brain that regulates a number of your bodily functions including your appetite, sleep, temperature, metabolism, and growth, actually activates when you feel gratitude. So, we actually can’t function without gratitude!
Difficulties with Expressing Gratitude
Not everyone finds it easy to express gratitude. But why?
Some animals actually have the capacity to express gratitude, which is thankfulness in its most simplistic form. Humans, on the other hand, with their complex societal norms, imposed expectations and emotions such as embarrassment, fear-driven obligation and guilt remove the simplicity that expressing gratitude should have. This causes grateful behaviours to become (or be perceived as) difficult to develop naturally.
To overcome this, start by using a written expression of gratitude, like a journal or a letter. This approach can improve your perception of the person your are grateful to, and feel a greater sense of trust and strength in your relationship with that person. Then, when you feel comfortable, try sending the letter, or verbalising what you wrote down.
The more you practice gratitude expression, the more natural it will feel!
4 Simple Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
- 1. Think about or write down a list of all the things you were grateful for during the day, just as you retire to bed. This will lead to better sleep patterns which are often disturbed when going to bed whilst your brain is still mulling over a problem or issue from the day. When your last thoughts are those of gratitude and appreciation, your thoughts and memories are positive, your mind is calmer and able to enter into a deeper sleep.
- 2. Try to notice and express appreciation or thanks as much as possible. That is, don’t just wait until the end of the day to review everything you were thankful for – try to also catch things for which you are grateful sooner and more immediately, and express thanks (even if only acknowledging to yourself) in the moment.
- 3. Gratitude is also about try to refocus on things that are going well when you are feeling negative and acutely aware of what is not going well, i.e. count your blessings instead. You can even be thankful for the lesson the negative situation presented you, even if only to identify your specific capacities for improving the situation.
- 4. Share your observations of thanks and subsequent impacts with a ‘gratitude buddy’ to reap double the reward!
Gratitude is an undervalued and underused emotion that is immediately rewarding and enhances all areas of wellness, over and above simply being kind and polite. Cultivating a gratitude attitude just takes regular practice, but before you know it, you’ll start to see the benefits for yourself, and spread to those around you.