Actress Doris Day once said, ‘Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.’ There’s plenty to complain about in the society we live in today. From the weather and traffic to the seemingly constant negativity in the news, complaint has become almost a normal way of life. Especially during the 2020 lockdown, for many of us it became overwhelming, affecting our mental health and the way we spent our daily lives.
It’s one of the reasons why keeping a gratitude journal has been highlighted as one of the easiest and most impactful ways of improving our wellbeing. By focusing on what we do have, rather than what we do not, studies have shown that gratitude is a rich emotion that can positively change our perspective, stop the spiral and make us happier and more able to manage the challenges we face.
Why gratitude works
On the surface, it might seem that simply being thankful, would not have such a profound effect on your wellbeing. It’s easy and quick – at any point in your day, you can think about a few things you appreciate. However, journaling, makes this a very different kind of exercise.
When you write things down, it externalises them and makes them real. Rather than letting them run through your mind, you can sit with them and let them expand into whole sentences and feelings. It means that the things that you are grateful for start to take up more space in your mind, not necessarily replacing negative thoughts, but putting them into perspective. And because our brains are naturally geared towards a negativity bias, to help us recognise danger, this is important, especially in times like the pandemic, when the negative can become overwhelming.
The physical effect of showing appreciation
Showing gratitude is shown to have such a profound effect on wellbeing that our founder, Sofia also keeps a gratitude journal. Beginning during lockdown, she says, ‘I am a naturally optimistic person but that dissolved into nothing last year, so I used the practice of being grateful to pull myself out of a hole. I found it to be more than saying ‘thanks’ and it made me take stock of what I had, instead of focusing on what I didn’t. It also helped to retrain my brain when I needed it most and brought back my everyday joy.’
As well as improving our mood and levels of happiness, being grateful has also been shown to:
- Lower stress – being happier reduces levels of stress hormone cortisol, which in turn reduced levels of cellular inflammation
- Improve positivity – choosing to see the good things gives less power to the negatives, resulting in greater life satisfaction
- Improve sleep – good mood and less stress can improve the quality of our sleep
- Build self-esteem – giving more time and acknowledgement to your own achievements, reduces comparison and improves self-belief
- Strengthen relationships – greater appreciation of those around means that we value them more
How to begin a habit of gratitude
There are many ways to welcome gratitude into your daily routine and it’s important to note that what works for one person may not work for someone else. Some people are set up for the day with a daily dose of morning reflection, while others prefer to settle down with their journal half an hour before they go to bed.
When it comes to framing gratefulness into a series of questions you might ask yourself, consider the following:
- Who are you grateful for?
- What have you achieved?
- What are you grateful for?
- What are you grateful to be excited for?
It could be as simple as being grateful for the morning sun or as specific as being grateful for your mum making you your favourite food. If you can, try to use all five senses when you’re writing, as they all combine to create a more wholesome experience of appreciation.