How Gratitude Can Make You Happier And How To Practice It

A simple daily gratitude practice fosters your mental health and increases feelings of happiness. Here's how to practice it.

How Gratitude Can Make You Happier And How To Practice It

Thank you! Yes, you – thank you for your impact today. Whether you’re a medical worker, a teacher, or a mental health professional. Whether you helped your elderly neighbors with their groceries today or just stayed at home and stayed safe. Thank you!

In the chaos of this pandemic, it may seem strange to say that each of us has so much to be grateful for. But if you think about it, I’m sure you can name at least one thing that you are thankful for today. Rushing in our day-to-day lives, especially when we find ourselves in an uncertain situation like the current one, we tend to overlook our blessings and focus on the negative aspects of life. Gratitude reminds us that despite our daily challenges, there is still so much to be thankful for, and this outlook is a powerful antidote to mindless life.

The Power Of Gratitude

Gratitude is best described as a positive attitude towards life that fosters a wide range of benefits on our mental health, happiness, social interactions and overall life satisfaction. It is a powerful experience that teaches us to appreciate all that we have in life, and a gentle reminder to stop chasing  things we don’t necessarily need. Gratitude focuses on the present moment and places emphasis on appreciation for what we have now. It’s a practice closely related to mindfulness, and is often incorporated as a part of mindfulness practice.

What’s Gratitude Got To Do With It?

As the study and understanding of gratitude emerged in the field of positive psychology less than 20 years ago, researchers were seeking to answer  an important question: “What makes people happy and more satisfied with life in general?” What they found was that the cultivation of gratitude generates a wide range of positive emotions, such as love and contentment. More than just making us feel good, the presence of positive emotions have two main benefits in the deeper context of mental health. Firstly, by turning our mental focus on the positive, rather than negative aspects of a situation, gratitude shifts the natural tendency of our brain to focus on threats and worries. Gratitude also has a beneficial  impact in coping with traumatic and stressful events. It serves as an adaptive coping method by helping people to positively reinterpret negative emotions, such as anger or greed. Therefore, it can be said that gratitude works as an antidote to spiraling negative emotions, boosting our mental capacity to adapt more quickly to future negative life events.Even more impressively, gratitude has the power to create a positive thought spiral. These positive cycles of thinking are closely interconnected with our behavior, which leads us to act in more healthy and favorable ways. And the more positive our behavior and social interactions are, the more satisfied we are with life. These impacts can also lead to increased  self-esteem and closer social bonds in those who regularly practice gratitude. You might now be asking, “Okay, but how exactly does one practice gratitude”?  Let’s try it out together:

Think of a person that you are grateful to have in your life – someone that makes you feel loved, secured and cared for. Perhaps it’s a parent who has been a shoulder to cry on. Maybe it’s a sibling you have fought and laughed with. Or a friend or a significant other that has always supported you. Your relationship with this person doesn’t need to be perfect, but merely human – caring and genuine.

Now think of the situation where you came to them for help – how did they make you feel? You can also ask yourself how they’ve added value to your life, or what you wouldn’t have been able to  do without them. Now relax and let yourself absorb and experience all the feelings of appreciation that come up

And that’s it. You’ve just spent time actively cultivating gratitude, and in doing so you facilitated positive mental health. But to truly reap all the benefits of the positive mindset that gratitude creates, it needs to become a regular practice.

A Simple Gratitude Practice

If you want to incorporate gratitude practice in your everyday life, but don’t know how, you can start with the simple practice of writing down three things that happened today that you are grateful for. These can be anything – from a sunny day to your individual achievements. I myself am grateful for everyone being responsible in this pandemic and staying safe at home. I am grateful for medical workers, scientists, and volunteers that take their time to help people in need. I am grateful that there have been no more earthquakes in Zagreb and that my loved ones are safe.

You can write these down either on your phone or (preferably) in a notebook that serves as a journal. The goal of this practice is to reflect on the day, reflect on your thoughts and feelings, and to remind yourself of all that you have to be thankful for. If this type of practice fits you, you can go one step further,  and revise your written list on a weekly or monthly basis.

Don’t worry if at first you find yourself uncomfortable or find it hard to write. This kind of practice takes time, and sometimes you might not even see the immediate positive effect. But it’s there. Keep in mind that your thoughts have the power over your emotions. By choosing to cultivate a healthy mindset – with gratitude being one of the ways to do so, you foster your mental health and happiness. Count your blessings and smile on!

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