Gratitude: A Foundation for a More Positive Mindset
Most people focus on expressing gratitude during particular times of year, such as the winter holiday season or other nationally recognized holidays. In doing so, many are missing out on the benefits of extending the feeling of gratitude throughout the year. Not only can gratitude help improve your sense of well-being, it can also lead to other health benefits along the way.
While it seems almost unbelievable that simply taking the time to regularly acknowledge the things in life for which you are thankful, the results of doing so can be remarkable. Those who frequently experience feelings of gratitude often report a greater level of overall happiness, as well as an increased ability to manage adversity, and the ability to build and maintain more positive relationships.
This feeling of connection to something larger than oneself, whether that refer to community, nature, or a higher power, brings with it additional positive emotions and may ease the recall of positive memories. Gratitude can also cultivate a sense of optimism in regards to one’s future, and a greater appreciation for one’s present. In this regard, expressing and experiencing gratitude is often a key element in the treatment approach and techniques associated with the positive psychology movement.
Gratitude and Positive Psychology
Focusing on a sense of gratitude belongs to a larger group of techniques commonly referred to as positive psychology. As the name suggests, positive psychology focuses on the positive influences in a person’s life that help them feel more fulfilled and happy. Peterson (2008) suggests that positive psychology is designed to complement the traditional psychological approach, which tends to be problem-centered, by focusing on building on the positives in a person’s life while simultaneously remedying the negative.
Benefits of Gratitude
In an article by Heubeck (2006), it is stated that people who consider themselves to exhibit gratitude as a personal trait can experience a variety of benefits over those who consider gratitude a temporary state of mind or a simple action. Those who regularly feel grateful for the positive things in their lives are more likely to participate in actions of self-care, such as regular exercise and healthy eating habits.
Specific benefits in the areas of stress reduction are also noted in those who regularly express gratitude for what they have. This includes not only the ability to better regulate various stress responses within the body, but also an increased ability to deal with traumatic events, such as the loss of a loved one, and can decrease the likelihood of experiencing the suffering that is commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
A sign of general optimism, gratitude may also help boost the immune system. Not only can this decrease the likelihood of experiencing an illness, it can also mean faster healing from invasive medical procedures, as well as a decrease in the number of symptoms associated with chronic conditions.
How it Works
Those who regularly feel grateful for the positives in their lives are more likely to be considered mindful in general. This outward focus can increase the feeling of satisfaction in one’s life, as well as promote a feeling of support amongst the members of their community. These benefits can be experienced predominantly independent of certain material factors in one’s life, such as current income or classification.
While the most marked benefit is demonstrated when thoughts of gratitude are used in place of more negative internal dialogue, it can even be experience when used in place of neutral thinking when reviewing an issue or incident.
Techniques to Increase Feelings of Gratitude
The first suggestion posted by Harvard Health (2011) focuses on writing thank you notes. Not only can this help improve the mood of the writer, it is also beneficial to the recipient. The recommendation is to write at least one gratitude letter every month, and occasionally writing one to yourself as well.
If finding time to write a letter is challenging, even taking a moment to mentally say thank you to a person who had a positive impact on your life can be beneficial.
For those who prefer a written format that comes with a level of built in brevity, a gratitude journal may be an ideal tool for recording one’s thoughts regarding the positive influences present in their lives. This can include a daily recording of the positives experienced each day, or can be a weekly review of the blessings one has received. For those who wish to take a literal approach to the idea of counting one’s blessings, picking a target number to record each week can serve that function nicely.
If you prefer your expressions of gratitude to be a spiritual experience, prayer and meditation can both increase one’s level of mindfulness while contemplating your appreciation for a variety of positive influences or experiences.
Practice Makes Perfect
While some of these ideas may come naturally to those who consider themselves optimistic by nature, the aforementioned techniques can work for anyone who is willing to dedicate the time to the practice of expressing and acknowledging one’s feelings of gratitude on a regular basis. The benefit is not based on how you choose to experience gratitude as long as you find a way to integrate it into your life more frequently.
If the practice feels unnatural or counterintuitive to your normal way of thinking, consider starting small. Even saying a simple thank you to the person who holds a door open so you may pass through or to the cashier who bagged your groceries, can serve as an excellent foundation to build upon. If that feels too awkward initially, just focus on smiling back at any person who smiles at you.
While these actions may seem small, or even insignificant, it can help build the habit of being a more positively-minded person. With time, your level of comfort should increase, allowing you to integrate gratitude more deeply into every day.
Huebeck, E. (2006, January 11). Boost Your Health With a Dose of Gratitude. Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/women/features/gratitute-health-boost
Peterson, C. (2008, May 16). What Is Positive Psychology, and What Is It Not? Retrieved August 22, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not
Harvard Health (2011, November). Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude