I have heard so many people suggest that we all practise gratitude. I had always thought it was more a task that Law of Attraction devotees try out. If I ever had a go, it felt false and fluffy!
I’ve dug a little deeper into the neuroscience and psychology surrounding gratitude and looked beyond anecdotal evidence. I was amazed by what I found and you might be too!
What are the benefits of practising gratitude and is it pseudo-science?
I’ve been reading up on the psychology of gratitude recently and been amazed at the science behind it. From MRI brain scans, neuroimaging to rigorous scientific procedure, it seems that gratitude is one of the most rewarding practices available: you get back more that you put in!
The first set of advantages are as you’d imagine:
- Feeling of being less materialistic
- Feel happier and more positive
- Feel more satisfied with what you have
- Reduces rumination
- Ability to have more patience, even wisdom
But here are some others you might not have thought about
- Better physical health
- Less fatigue and more energy
- Better sleep
- Lower levels of inflammation
Taken together, this all adds up to far more resilience to 21st century issues such as burn-out (Emmons & Mishra, 2011. https://psycnet.apa.org ). For just a few minutes per day!
In 2017, Wong & Brown (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain) conducted a study that showed not only did keeping a gratitude journal enhance mental health, but that the benefits could be long-lasting. The results indicated that there were 4 fabulously positive changes when gratitude was part of the participants’ lives
- Gratitude disconnects us from toxic negative emotions
- Gratitude help you, even if you don’t share what or whom you’re grateful for
- The benefits are not necessarily immediate, but they only take weeks (not months or years) to show an effect. Once you start to feel better, however, the effects seem to snowball
- Gratitude changes brain activity and the effects last
Are you sold on practising gratitude yet?! It certainly seems that by enabling us to notice when things are going well, gratitude re-adjusts our propensity to stack up the negatives.
What to do
There are various ways to gain the benefit, not only writing a journal, here are some ideas for practising gratitude:
- Journal about the things, situations, people and possibly lucky outcomes you’re grateful for – you could tweet or post if you prefer
- Write thank-you notes – how great is it to receive a handwritten note? A handy one for the old adage it’s better to give than to receive
- Think about your 5 senses, which ones have helped you most today?
- Write out Post-It notes to remind you of the things you’re grateful for
- At the end of the day, before sleep, count 10 things you’re grateful for. Can you do more? 20? 30? You’d be surprised how they add up
- STOP watching, reading and listening to negative media
- Avoid gossip of any kind
- Notice 5 ways in which nature is beautiful
- Ring an old friend and chat – be grateful for their friendship
- Pay-it-forward – if someone does something nice for you, do something nice for someone else
- Smile!! Lots!
If you are busy, you don’t have a lot of time for mediation or mindfulness, perhaps, taking 2-5 minutes a day thinking about what you’re grateful for could reap immense rewards. If you’re don’t have time, maybe doing this could free up time elsewhere, as your mind becomes calmer, more resilient and happier.
How does it work on the brain?
Different parts of the brain have been shown to respond to gratitude (Kini et al., 2015 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288932385_The_effects_of_gratitude_expression_on_neural_activity)
And neuroscientists working at the molecular have found that gratitude produces dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, in the brain (Carter, R.M., 2009 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2742668/). Each time we are grateful, the brain releases dopamine and gives us that pleasurable feeling.
It dovetails well with NLP too
The more I read about gratitude, the more I could see essences of what I’ve learnt and what I train in NLP. In NLP, we learn ways to prevent us from self-sabotaging the unconscious (subconscious) mind – avoiding gossip, negative or fake news, focusing on what we want, cause and effect etc. There are also overtones of quantum linguistics blended in too – this is the area of NLP that sees us easily loosen up our thinking and as the name suggests, it’s very fast. All in all, practising gratitude may well be the task of choice for clients between sessions and a quick, easy, effective technique to take home.
NLP to help those who feel anything but grateful
Although it’s easy to name things we’re grateful for – we may not actually feel it. Life maybe getting in the way. That’s where NLP could help to shift unhelpful thoughts and ideas. Consider these 4 sentences, all at once – read them through and describe your thoughts, learnings and feelings:
- What would happen if you did feel gratitude?
- What wouldn’t happen if you did feel gratitude?
- What would happen if you didn’t feel gratitude?
- What wouldn’t happen if you didn’t feel gratitude?!
When you have your learning(s), think about what they mean to you and how the answer to that would make you feel.
Gratitude is quite simply for everyone, even those who don’t yet feel grateful! Gratitude is not a New Age, fluffy practise, but is a science-backed ritual we can all reap multiple benefits from.