Gratitude (and happiness)
By Sarah-Jayne Shine
For this month’s blog we thought we’d delve deep into the subject of gratitude and how this simple practice can bring a host of different benefits to our lives.
With Christmas nigh upon us and the ‘silly season’ in swing, this time of the year can be a challenging. We all want to get our jobs out the door, finish our invoicing before the end of the calendar year and make sure we catch up with people in person (traffic light setting permitting) so we can say thanks for everything in 2021 and to look ahead with confidence to 2022. Let’s face it - It’s been tough for many this year. There’s a period of excess coming our way and as we limp to the finish line it’s important to celebrate our wins and fill our gratitude jars (read on for more on this).
Gratitude can make us happier, healthier, and more settled in ourselves. We’ll explore what gratitude is and the benefits it can bring, along with some practical tips for being grateful.
So, I’ll start by saying a big fat, festive thank you to you, our fabulous clients. We’re thankful for the opportunities and challenges you have brought to our table. We’ve made new relationships this year, we’ve strengthened existing relationships and we’re setting the scene for new relationships in 2022. We’d be nothing without you. Thanks.
But first things first what is this ‘gratitude’ we speak of;
- the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
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.
Why is gratitude important?
Numerous 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 an antidote to everything that is challenging us, it can help keep us feel more grounded and positive, especially in these unknown times.
Many of us are familiar with feelings of dissatisfaction – we feel that our lives are incomplete and lacking in the things we crave the most. It’s easy to compare ourselves to the sepia tinted lives of others and assume that we, ourselves are lacking. Gratitude can help with that!
How does gratitude help?
It makes us happier and improves our mental wellbeing
A study at the start of the millennium concluded 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 a stronger connection with others and that participating in gratitude resulted in substantial and consistent improvements in an individual’s perception of their wellbeing. It improves mood and lowers rates of stress and depression. It appears that gratitude and happiness are closely linked. Who knew?
It can improve our physical health
it's not just an internal and emotional concept. There is evidence to suggest that it can be positive on our 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.
It can increase our self-esteem
One of the markers of long-term wellbeing is self-esteem – an individual’s opinion of their own worth. A study in 2011 found that grateful contemplation could be used as a tool to increase satisfaction with life and self-esteem.
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. 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 improve our 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 that it can improve our quality of sleep.
It can boost our career
Gratitude can make us more helpful, more compassionate, and more forgiving. Several studies have suggested that practising gratitude can also make you more satisfied with our 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 us deal with the hard times
A recent study 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.
Sound good? It does eh….
But how do we practice 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. This can improve emotion regulation and self-motivation.
- 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.
Gratitude journals. 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. We know a thing or two about these as well having also designed, produced a set for Gernius.
We’re no stranger to gratitude jars and journals at Lemonface Design. We created and still use the jars and journals we produced for our friends at Gernius. 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.
This isn’t something you need to do every day. We dig ours out when we feel the need to. 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 page after page, after page – your gratitude diary could be as simple as a list of bullet points for that particular day.
Of course, it might not be that easy to identify things to be thankful for. Here are a few gratitude journal prompts that can help you:
- 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, fresh air - 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, the changing seasons.
- 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.
There is power in 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 ‘one size fits all’ - gratitude and happiness are without doubt closely linked.
Look after yourselves and each other. See you next month.