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Why Adding More Gratitude to Your Mental Well-being Toolbox can Supercharge your Health and Happiness

What I love the most at this time of year, other than the warm sunshine, the outdoor cinema, catching up with friends and family and taking time off from work to chill and relax is having the headspace to press pause and give thanks for everything I have witnessed, experienced, and learnt from 2021.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools in your mental wellbeing box. When you express or feel gratitude it boosts your mood, raises optimism, and rewires your neural circuitry to enable you to stay mentally strong and happy.

And there is plenty of evidence to back this up.

 

What Gratitude Does for You

1. It creates a “happier” you.

Being thanked or saying thank you makes us feel good. Not only that you feel encouraged and happy. This keeps you in a more positive state of mind. You are more aware and alert to what’s happening for you and for those around you. You enjoy a higher level of satisfaction with your life and work, and you cope better with life’s curve balls. You’re also more likely to enjoy a longer-lasting and happy relationship with your meaningful other and stronger interpersonal relationships with friends and work colleagues.

Gratitude works to assist in lowering stress including cortisol levels. It becomes easier to notice more, to build greater self-awareness and maintain a broader perspective.

Being proactive in expressing gratitude doesn’t have to be hard or huge.

It’s about looking for the opportunity to call out the good, acknowledge someone’s kind deed, remembering to say thank you to your friend who cooked you a delicious meal, to the stranger who held the door open for you, or for the note from your neighbour thanking you for helping them out.

Gratitude meditation helps you to stay focused on yourself (your achievements, how you feel at this moment and your strengths) and on your social environment (your friends, family and colleagues who love and know you.)

 

2. It creates a “fitter” you.

The physical benefits of gratitude include a stronger immune system – you’re less likely to get sick and you recover faster. You experience fewer of those common aches and pains or headaches. Your blood pressure is better controlled, and you enjoy better heart function and better still your sleep pattern improves too.

If you’ve ever lived with anxiety or depression, it’s been found that writing regular letters of gratitude in conjunction with regular counselling sessions can speed your recovery and lessen negative emotions. And for those living with pain keeping a gratitude journal was found to reduce the intensity of pain in 16% of patients and led to increased compliance and willingness to trial other things to manage their pain more effectively.

You might think that 16% doesn’t sound like much. But for a person living with chronic pain, it could make a big difference to the quality of their life.

 

3. It creates a “better” you.

In his farewell address at the end of his tenure as American President, Barack Obama expressed gratitude to the American people, for making him “a better man.”

“All that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

Gratitude changes us.

It makes you a more effective communicator. You show more empathy. You show greater commitment to “the cause” or your team or your work. It elevates your intrinsic motivation to do more and be more.

You become more “likeable!”

The more we practice gratitude, the faster that prosocial behaviour becomes embedded in our psyche. That’s why leaders who take the time to show their appreciation of others build greater trust, engagement, and loyalty.

It builds what psychologists call emotional resilience whereby it helps you to see the positive in a sea of negativity.

It helps to reduce rumination and to be willing to reframe your position about a particular situation.

It keeps you grounded to what’s real, even when that feel’s hard or unpleasant.

It keeps you solution focussed and open to alternative paths.

 

Gratitude Changes our Brain (for the better)

In the giving and receiving of gratitude, the two neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin make us feel good and we get that warm inner glow. While oxytocin works to facilitate trust and prosocial behaviour while lowering cortisol.

Keeping a gratitude journal where you journal three to five things you are grateful for each day (and why) shifts your psychology towards the positive, and studies have shown how three weeks of daily journaling in this way, can elevate your level of optimism for the future for up to six months.

Creating greater mental wellbeing in our lives and workplace is essential to the creation of greater happiness and mental fitness. Globoforce calls gratitude “the secret sauce” for building a great workplace culture.

Linda Roszak Burton writing in the American Association for Physician Leadership provides a prescription for getting the most out of your gratitude practice.

  1. Reflect on specific people, experiences and behaviours that are meaningful in your life.
  2. Describe specifically why you’re grateful to that person, experience, or behaviour 
  3. Describe how you have benefitted and specifically characterise the intentions, actions and possible sacrifices made on your behalf.

According to Robin Sharma, the practice of gratitude puts YOU in charge of your life.

“Gratitude drives happiness. Happiness boosts productivity. Productivity reveals mastery. And mastery inspires the world”.

Has expressing gratitude impacted your life in a good way?

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase

If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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