I don’t know about you but my Instagram and Pinterest feeds have been full lately of the importance of practicing gratitude for our mental health. And there really does seem to be some great science behind it.
It’s thought that people who practice gratitude regularly by taking a moment each day to think about the things they are thankful for, large or small, are generally more satisfied with their lives and more resilient in difficult times. In fact Brene Brown, in her 12 years of research, has found that it’s not that joyful people are more likely to be grateful for what they have, it’s that people who practice feeling grateful are more joyful as a result. (For a link to her research if you’d like to read more, see below).
It’s life changing.
But it’s not just about saying ‘thank you’. Taking the time to say out loud or even better, write down, what you are grateful for at least three times a week has shown to have a positive impact on people’s mental health. Studies have linked keeping gratitude journals with better eating habits, reduced negative emotions, better sleep and less fatigue.
It seems like a practice that’s definitely worth a try.
How can practicing gratitude help with your worried thoughts?
Research by Wong and Brown in 2017 showed that gratitude can help us with our worrying and negative thoughts in two particular ways:
- Focusing on what we are grateful for disconnects us from negative emotions and the over-thinking that comes with worry
- The process of writing down what we are grateful for is a way of mindfully refocusing our attention on the positive rather than negative, in the same way another distraction like going for a walk or reading a book can.
Regular gratitude practice can also help retrain your brain to think more positive thoughts on a more regular basis – giving your brain the opportunity to lift itself into a more positive mindset generally.
Okay, so practicing gratitude is helpful but how do I stick to it?
The million dollar question – how do you stick to a gratitude practice after the first few days of enthusiasm have worn off?
Research has also shown that practicing gratitude, like many things, isn’t going to be a quick fix. After a few weeks or months, that’s when the magic happens and it becomes an ingrained positive mindset habit. So how do we get to that point?
Here’s a few suggestions for how to build a gratitude habit that sticks:
- Doing something every day is easier than doing something once in a while – commit to writing down what you’re grateful for every day for a month. Put a chart on the wall with an X in the box for every day you practice to help you keep your streak.
- Do you have a weakness for nice stationary (like me)? – Buy yourself a lovely new journal and put it on your bedside table so you can pick it up just before bedtime every day.
- Put a reminder on your phone for a certain time each day to meditate on what you feel grateful for.
- Be really specific – ‘I’m grateful for my family’ – however wonderful they are you’ll soon get bored if this is what you write in your journal every night so try to be as specific as you can, ‘I’m grateful for my daughter’s smile this evening when I told her a joke’.
- Group your gratitude practice with something else – for example saying three things you’re grateful for every time you’re stopped at a red light. Tagging habits to regular situations can help to establish them in your routine.
However you build it into your life, having a regular gratitude practice can support you with worrying less and have more of a focus on the positive in life.
So, what are you feeling grateful for right now?