Last year, I wrote a couple of blog posts about gratitude. One was about how I was practising gratitude despite the situation with COVID-19 and the local lockdowns that were being enforced, and the other presented a few ways in which you could start to practice being grateful. Today, I want to dive a little deeper into the core benefits of a daily gratitude practice and share ideas on ways you can get started with a view to make it part of your routine.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is about being aware of and thankful for all of the positive things and situations in your life and their impact on you. It’s about regularly taking a moment to reflect on and appreciate what you have, even during particularly challenging times.
Finding gratitude is a skill that anyone can develop and there are so many benefits of a daily practice. Read on and you’ll see exactly why I’ve made it a habit and part of my nightly routine.
9 Benefits of practising gratitude
Makes us feel happier Gratitude encourages us to focus on the positives in our life, helping to reduce negative emotions such as anger, resentment and regret. It can also minimise feelings associated with depression such as sadness, worthlessness, self-hate and guilt.
Reduces stress High levels of stress can leave us feeling extremely tense, anxious, restless and overwhelmed. Luckily, cultivating feelings of gratitude is the perfect antidote. According to research, being more grateful lowers the stress hormone (cortisol) in our body, making us feel much calmer. It can also minimise negative self-talk which can help you to feel confident in dealing with everything life throws at you.
Improves our self-esteem One of the main things that ruins our self-esteem as adults is comparing ourselves with others in an unfavourable way. Instead of engaging in this destructive behaviour, try focusing on gratitude instead. Boost your self worth by thinking of all of your strengths and their impact on your day. Rather than feeling envious of or resentful towards others, try complementing them on their skills and be grateful for how they help you in your life.
Better sleep Finding time each evening to pause and reflect on what you’re grateful for helps you to end the day on a calm and more positive note. This can help you to wind down before bed and has been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity. If you’re really struggling with your sleep, I recommend doing some reflective journalling (see point number 1 of this post) before spending time filling in your gratitude log.
Improved physical health Those who practise gratitude have been shown to exercise more regularly and have medical check-ups more often. When we reflect on what we’re grateful for, we’re likely to show more appreciation towards good physical health and this can prompt us to take better care of ourselves.
Increases resilience We might have lots going on right now which is making life super tough for us, but practising gratitude can help us see the bigger picture, appreciating that we still have lots to be thankful for and assuring us that we have the ability to cope with what’s going on and get through it, coming out stronger on the other side.
Improves our romantic relationships Gratitude plays a key role in strengthening our loving relationships. By actively pay attention to the positive things that our partner does, we learn to appreciate them more, show our gratitude and give them thanks. Expressing your thankfulness is likely to motivate them to do more things to show they love and care about you. Also, when you feel gratitude towards your partner, the chance of you behaving in a positive, kind and caring way back is greatly increased.
Reduces materialism There’s strong evidence that being materialistic i.e. being overly concerned with material things rather than spiritual, intellectual and cultural values leaves a person feeling depressed and dissatisfied with life. Learning to be grateful for what you have reduces these feelings and increases happiness and life satisfaction.
Increases optimism Developing a daily gratitude practice can help you to become a more optimistic person by encouraging you to focus on what’s going right rather than dwelling on negative aspects of your life. If we perceive our current life to be good, we’ll start to believe that this will continue in the future.
My top tips for getting started
With this many benefits, you’ll probably want to get started straight away so here’s a mini guide to help you begin:
Keep it simple It’s best not to develop some elaborate routine that will become too onerous and make you feel like finding gratitude is a complete chore and one which you can’t keep up with. When I first started I made a simple ‘two line a day’ spread in my bullet journal and decided to come up with two or three things each day. This takes me less than 10 minutes each evening and things often pop into my head during the day which I want to add (a benefit of the practice being ingrained).
Choose your method of recording Think about what style of journal appeals to you most – would you prefer writing in your notebook or BuJo or are you happier writing notes on your phone using a dedicated app? I use my bullet journal but I have looked into a couple of apps for research, Gratitude App provides daily prompts and also challenges which run for between one and three weeks. Examples of prompts are ‘Why did you start gratitude journalling? Express gratitude to yourself for taking this step’ and ‘Express gratitude for the new beginnings life gives you’. This is good if you need a little help on the ideas front. The other app is Presently, which is a lot more simple and just gives you space to free write what you’re grateful for each day. Both apps offer alarm prompts as reminders to write.
Make it a habit I’ve written before about ways to cement habits but in brief, you need to start with a cue or trigger which reminds you to do your daily practice e.g. a time, such as 8pm (for which you can set an alarm) or before/after another habit such as when you’ve emptied the dishwasher, after dinner or before you settle down to watch TV. Then, you need to focus on the benefits you receive from the habit, so, for example, you might re-read this list, or, when you get established, you might reflect on how you feel as a result of practising e.g. calmer, happier or sleeping better.
Add a little variety Try to find different things to be grateful for each day and make sure you are really specific so you can see the impact of things in your life e.g. the sunshine because it dried my washing nicely, my ability to persevere with an arduous task until I got it finished, the reassuring words my friend said to give me the strength confidence to get through a difficult time etc.
Share your gratitude with your family and friends If I write about something my husband said or did which I’m grateful for, I tell him. This helps him to know that I don’t take him for granted and that I really do appreciate him. The same can be applied to other family members and friends.
As you start to practise gratitude, remember it takes time and effort to make it a habit. Each evening, I like to read through all of the things I’ve listed so far that month as a positive reminder of all of the great things and experiences my life brings. And, I make sure that I express gratitude for the fact that I’ve kept going with my daily routine, even during tough times or when lack of motivation kicks in. Of course there have been a couple of days when I’ve been super busy and a change of routine has meant that my ‘two lines a day’ didn’t get filled in, but I’ve just accepted it and reflected on why it happened so that I can put in place strategies to ensure that not completing my gratitude practice doesn’t become a habit instead.