No matter who you are, where you are, whatever your situation – good or bad – it’s possible to lift your mood by practising gratitude. Not only does this make you feel better, sometimes instantly, but the effects are far more wide-ranging – and long-lasting – than just that.
What does ‘practising gratitude’ mean?
Practising gratitude means identifying & calling out things that you are thankful for in your life and intentionally feeling grateful for them. These things can be anywhere in your life – at work, at home, in your social or family life – and can be big or small, it doesn’t matter. You can find gratitude in many different people, places and things.
For example, some of the things you might be grateful for right now could be:
- for the smell of fresh coffee
- for your garden, and how – after a period of intense rain – the sun has come out and the flowers are now blooming beautifully and the bees are buzzing and it is alive and full of summery goodness (that’s how I feel right now!)
- that your neighbour took delivery of a parcel for you while you were out, saving you having to make a separate trip to the post office to collect it
- for having a smartphone and a working internet connection, which enables you to stay in contact with the world wherever you are, at any time
- for the simple fact you have a roof over your head, food in the fridge and clean running water coming out of the tap whenever you want it
You can find plenty of things to be grateful for in your immediate surroundings, particularly in things that you often take for granted. Being grateful allows you to notice and acknowledge the things that make you happy, and by bringing your attention to them you attract positivity into your life.
Take a moment to look around you and notice one thing you are grateful for right now
But my situation is so bad, nothing can possibly make me feel better!
There’s a knack to practising gratitude in the dark times too. If you’re in a bad mood or a situation you don’t like, rather than focus on what’s bad about it, try flipping it around. What’s good about it? What positives can you take from it?
If you think about it, you’ll find something… and by changing your perspective, maybe you won’t feel so bad any more.
The story about the detour to release a mouse…
For example, picture this scene…
It’s the Bank Holiday weekend and you’re about to spend the long weekend camping with your extended family. You’re in a bad mood, really not in the mood to go on this trip. You’ve had a bad week (for various reasons) and the last thing you want is to be sociable and to have to pretend to be happy. To top it all off, you’ve developed a mouse infestation in your house, and last night you caught yet another one. He only wanted that one piece of tasty cheesy cracker and now he’s sat there, trapped in a plastic tube.
The car’s all packed with your camping gear and you’re ready to go. You’re on the verge of running late, but you still need to release the mouse. So you pack the mouse trap in the car and head off on a small detour to find a quiet country lane, far enough away from the house, to release him (or her) into the wild.
As you’re driving along, the car doesn’t feel as if it’s handling quite right. So when you stop to release the mouse, you check the tyres… and you find that one tyre is half-deflated. And to top it off, you also notice a new scrape behind the wheel arch! Someone must have scraped past the car while it was parked outside your house on the road. Seriously??!! Can this day get any worse??
You release the mouse, he scampers off and you toss the empty trap into the car. You turn the car around and head back the way you came, towards the nearest garage with an air machine to pump up your tyre… only to join a queue of traffic that you would have avoided had you not needed to go to a garage. This is not going to plan at all!
Go on then, tell me what positives you found in that situation
Yes, that is a true story – that was my May Bank Holiday weekend experience. I have to admit, it took a little while for the anger and frustration to subside. But once those feelings had passed, I looked at the situation objectively and found many things to be grateful for:
- I was grateful that by stopping to release the mouse only a few miles from home, I was able to identify the problem with the tyre and rectify it before doing any damage
- I was grateful that the tyre wasn’t punctured and that, after pumping it up, I could still drive the car to the campsite and back
- I was grateful to have a car to drive in the first place (kindly gifted to me by my parents when I returned, unemployed, from 3 years of living at sea)
- I was grateful that the scratch was only superficial and did not affect the running of the car
- I was grateful that I was able to get the anger and frustration out of my system before arriving at the campsite 1.5 hours later!
- And – most importantly – I was grateful that I still made it to the campsite in time to get my fish & chips order in for dinner! 🙂
So you see… even when things feel really bad in the moment, as if the world is out to get you and no matter what happens, dammit, nothing will go right…! Try taking a deep breath, take a step back and look at the situation through positive eyes… and I promise you, if you try hard enough, you can always find something to be grateful for.
But what are the benefits of practising an ‘attitude of gratitude’?
Well, for one, scientists have proven that practising an ‘attitude of gratitude’ makes you happier.
Humans take for granted a lot of things in life and many of those things make us happy. But because we take them for granted, we stop noticing them and often focus on the bad stuff more. By drawing our attention to the little things, and focusing on why they make us happy, we stop ignoring what makes us happy.
There is also scientific evidence which shows that practising gratitude can, among other things:
- reduce blood pressure
- reduce depression
- reduce chronic pain
- increase energy
- improve self-esteem
- increase longevity – it can literally make you live longer!
This chirpy little 2-minute video from the folks at the Tremendous Collective explains many of the health, personal and social benefits of cultivating an ‘attitude of gratitude’:
What goes around, comes around
As well as all the health benefits, practising gratitude is also a way of focusing on positivity in our lives. Having a ‘glass half full’ mentality instead of seeing the glass as half empty also has it’s own benefits.
By living positively, and practising an attitude of gratitude, more good things happen to you. Conversely, if you focus on negativity all the time, you’ll find more bad things happen to you.
Some call this the Law of Attraction – what you focus on, expands. Others might call it karma – what goes around, comes around.
The £10 note story
This is one recent example of how good karma benefited me. Last week I had some time between appointments, so decided to go out for a walk to clear my head. I took a £10 note out of my purse and stuck it in my pocket, in case I decided to stop for an ice cream or a coffee somewhere on my way round.
The afternoon was warm and sunny and I found myself walking into the local pub, situated on the river. The landlady was delighted to see me, and I ordered a coffee. I went to pull out my £10 note…. but it had vanished. It wasn’t there.
I offered to pay by card, but the landlady said “don’t be silly, it’s on the house”. Continuing to search every pocket in my jeans for the elusive tenner, I offered once more to pay by card. But she politely declined and served me my coffee. I said a very grateful and heartfelt thank you, and took my coffee outside to sit by the river.
I sat outside glowing with gratitude for such a lovely gesture. Still puzzling over the fate of the £10 note, I hoped I had dropped it somewhere on the street. Because if I had, maybe a stranger had picked it up… and I wished that the stranger might feel the same feeling of pleasure and gratitude I felt when the landlady gave me my free coffee. I hope that I was able to ‘pay it forward’, and thus send more good karma out into the world.
Isn’t that much better than berating myself for having lost ten pounds?
How do I get into the habit of practising gratitude?
Getting in the habit of practising gratitude takes time. Here are my top 5 tips for practising gratitude on a daily basis, to help you develop your ‘attitude of gratitude’.
You don’t have to do them all, just pick one and try it out… if it doesn’t work for you, try another. But remember, any new habit takes practise!
- Before you go to bed, think of 3 things you have been grateful for that day. Recite them out loud or write them down. Think back to each moment and re-kindle the feeling – not just the thought – of how it felt in that moment. Then wallow in that feeling of gratitude. You will sleep better as a result.
- When you wake up in the morning, shift your mood to a positive one by thinking of something you are grateful for. Maybe the lovely clean sheets on your bed, or perhaps it’s the weekend and you can have a lie in. Maybe you had a nice dream. Perhaps you have something yummy in mind for breakfast, or have something exciting planned for the day. Whatever it is, you will automatically start your day on a positive footing.
- Keep a gratitude journal. This can be a physical notebook or an app on your phone or tablet. I like to keep things digital so I simply use the Notes app on my iPhone. When you feel thankful for something or someone, add it to your journal. For example, sometimes I log of the number of smiles I’ve received from strangers in the street that week! It makes me smile every time I receive one because I know I can add it to my tally. And then I get to smile again when I look at how many smiles I’ve received! Double win. 🙂
- Gratitude meditations – there are many free apps and podcasts available that have guided gratitude meditations. I use Kelly’s “Mindful in Minutes” podcast (also available on all mainstream podcast platforms), but there are plenty of others out there if you search. These will help you conjure up the feeling of gratitude and let it permeate your whole body.
- Say thank you. If someone does something nice for you, say thank you. Or send them a thank you note or card or message. Not only do you acknowledge your appreciation, but in doing so you lift someone else up too. And by knowing their act of kindness or service has been appreciated, they are more likely to do it again. Spread the love!
Dr Robert Emmons, author of “Thanks: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier” has studied gratitude for over 10 years. This 5-minute video, titled The Gratitude Experiment, describes one of the experiments he ran.
The experiment gave three groups of people a journal and asked them to write in it on a daily basis.
- The first group wrote a list of things they were grateful for
- The second group wrote what had annoyed them
- The third group just wrote anything that popped into their head that day
The first group, who wrote down what they were grateful for, had a much higher level of well-being – and also slept better and exercised more – than both other groups.
So there you have it. I hope I’ve managed to convince you that being grateful can make you happier.
So go ahead and get practising!
Can you name three things you are grateful for today?