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Finding joy in little things: how practising gratitude can improve mental wellbeing
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Finding joy in little things: how practising gratitude can improve mental wellbeing

The surprising link between gratitude and mental health

 

gratefulness, wellness, mental health, emotional wellbeing
Representational image | Shutterstock

Have you ever paused to appreciate the good things in life? This sense of gratefulness and gratitude not just helps lift spirits, but positively affects one’s overall well-being. By practising gratitude regularly, individuals can cultivate a positive mindset, which can lead to improved emotional and physical health.

What is gratitude?

Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, researchers from  the University of California in Davis and San Diego, respectively, came up with a two-part definition of gratitude:

  1. When one recognises that something good has happened in one’s life
  2. When one realises that someone or something, is in a small way responsible for that good thing in one’s life

Gratitude is unique

“Because each of us has dealt with different kind  of hardships and blessings in life, we may be in different places in our gratitude journey,” says Joyce Marter, mental health thought leader, licensed psychotherapist. For some, gratitude may come easily, while for others it may be  difficult to keep a positive attitude towards various situations. “It’s important to exercise self-compassion and not compare yourself to others,” he adds.

What to keep in mind

When being grateful, it is also important to practise mindfulness. When one is feeling grateful for something or someone, one should take a minute to  feel the moment. One could even focus on one’s  breathing. A 2021 study involving  133 Chinese mindfulness practitioners found that this practice can lead to a great sense of satisfaction in life.

How to start: journal your feelings of gratitude

Writing down what one is grateful for is a good start, says Sudeeptha Grama, counsellor and founder of The Coffee Shop,  Bengaluru-based mental health help centre., A 2003 study by Robert A Emmons, University of California, Davis, found that people who journalled were more positive and had better mental well-being along with fewer symptoms of stress.

A clinical trial conducted in 2019 found that people who practiced journalling for 14 days saw the following benefits:

  • More positive emotions
  • Higher subjective happiness
  • Higher satisfaction with one’s life
  • Fewer negative emotions
  • Decrease in symptoms of depression

A 2016 paper published in the Journal of Scholarship Teaching and Learning, shows that people who practise gratitude are more energetic, focused, and alert. Out of 110 college students, 50 practised gratitude every day who turned out to be more focused and did better in  academics.

Here are some things that can be thought of everyday. This list could even be a permanent part of journalling.

One’s life

“In my practice as a psychotherapist, I’ve been awed by the gratitude of my clients,” says Marter.

He shares a few stories:

  • A man who broke his neck in a horrible car accident and had his head in traction, entered my office and said, ‘I am so grateful that I am alive.’
  • Another woman who had lost her husband, all her money, and had a disfiguring condition due to addiction was grateful for being able to share a simple meal with her adult sons on a holiday.

Friends

Friends are the family you pick, says Grama. According to a 2014 study  by Dr Raheel Mushtaq,  loneliness is caused not by being alone, but by being without a relationship or a set of relationships. Hence, friends enrich one’s lives and help one  get through difficulties. Moreover, socialising helps  boost self-esteem, says Grama.

Parents

Be grateful for the opportunity of life they gave you, says Dr Ravindra S, psychologist, The Mind Research Foundation, Bengaluru. “While we must acknowledge the fact that not all adults have great relationships with their parents, nevertheless, one should be grateful for parents’ patience, love and support,” he says.

Heartbreaks

Crisis equals growth. There is a lot of strength to be gained from heartbreaks. When relationships end, introspection takes over and that is a tool to turn hurt into resilience. So, be grateful for all your break-ups, says Grama. They have taught you things about yourself and helped you grow with time, she adds.

Food

If you have had a meal today, there is one big reason to be grateful for every single day, says Dr Ravindra. In fact, psychologists believe that practising gratefulness before a meal turns simple sustenance into a mindful experience. Thus, even if one does not say grace before eating, one should make sure one is grateful.

Kindness of strangers

Be it a stranger opening a door for you, or someone just smiling at you, remember to be kind to them and be grateful for their kindness, says Grama. Kindness helps builds a community that promotes respect and well-being.  It releases the “love hormone” or oxytocin and is known to make us friendlier and trusting, besides lowering our blood pressure, she adds.

Nature

Appreciate nature and be grateful for it. Take a moment during your day to look at the clouds, says Brian Polson, team leader at an IT company in Bengaluru, whose love for nature helped him tackle   negative situations in the workplace. “Take some time every day to look at nature. Be it a tree or just the sky or a simple act like walking on the grass, nature can heal us physically and mentally,” says Grama.

Be grateful for your community

You might also start making it a habit to express gratitude to your partner, children, friends, loved ones and co-workers, says Marter. Some people bring gratitude into the workplace; creating space for people to share what they appreciate about one another or the work they do together.

Final words: practise gratitude in 2023

Marter says that as one practises gratitude in 2023, one might consider what one is grateful for: health, relationships, work, finances, spirituality, and community. Remember that the areas of greatest struggle are the most important areas in which to practise gratitude.

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