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Today I am grateful for... -15th March 2017

Today I am grateful for…the art of practising gratitude (and why we do it)

"Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

A recent article on Forbes.com highlighted that gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. It’s free, it’s accessible, it doesn’t take much time, and the benefits are tangible. So why aren’t more of us doing it more regularly? Why isn’t it a part of our every day, every day?

Research has also shown that gratitude or thankfulness in the form of meditation can promote gratitude as a quality of mindfulness (Shapiro, Schwartz, & Santerre, 2002). In addition, progressive muscle relaxation can help produce increased feelings of love and thankfulness (Khasky & Smith, 1999), and merely imagining being forgiven by one’s victim can increase feelings of gratitude, presumably by making one grateful for being given the gift of forgiveness (Witvliet, Ludwig, & Bauer, 2002). (Source: Date & Journal: 2006, Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy / Authors: Giacomo Bono, Michael E. McCullough http://happierhuman.com/the-science-of-gratitude/)

The benefits of practicing gratitude that are listed and shared in many articles are significant. It has been shown that people who regularly practice gratitude, and who actively reflect on the things they are thankful for, as well as the things they forgive and choose to learn from, experience more positive emotions, can feel more alert and energised, have healthier and regular sleep patterns, and experience more kindness in their lives.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and also has an impact on depression.

These evidenced results are further supported by research conducted by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. He demonstrated that the act of simply keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.

A study by McCraty and colleagues (1998), 45 adults were taught to “cultivate appreciation and other positive emotions”. The results of this study showed that there was a mean 23% reduction in the stress hormone cortisol after the intervention period.

So why aren’t more of us doing it more regularly? Why isn’t it a part of our every day, every day?

If it’s so beneficial, why is this practice not universal? At South Pacific Private we believe in the importance of practising mindfulness, gratitude and in regular journaling. On a daily basis the community engage in ten minutes of mindfulness and name what they are also grateful for in certain community based meetings.

The Forbes.com article, cited earlier, underpinned the importance of gratitude and its role in improving psychological health. It outlined that gratitude can actually reduce the incidence of a number of toxic emotions being experienced. The impact was significant enough to reduce toxic emotions ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.

However, it doesn’t just improve mental health; it has also been shown to support increased mental strength as well as levels of empathy whilst concurrently reducing rates of aggression. The same article described the outcomes of a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky where participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even in the face of negative or constructive feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.

Finally, it detailed a study from 2006 published in ‘Behavior Research and Therapy ‘ which found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It also detailed a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major factor as regards mental resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.

If gratitude, forgiveness and mindfulness aren’t yet part of your daily mantra, perhaps this article can help support your interest in it and help you to take it a step farther and to put it into practice, at some level, until it hopefully becomes your new normal. The benefits are without question, but what remains is creating a pattern in your life whereby this becomes ‘just part of what you do’ as opposed to something you have to remind yourself to do.

Here’s our top list of 19 simple, free ways you can make gratitude your companion:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal
  2. Reflect at the end of each day on what you are grateful for
  3. Put yourself in the path of beauty or nature daily and reflect on what you see
  4. Tell someone how much you appreciate them and why you are grateful for them
  5. Include an act of kindness in your life each day – do something kind for a stranger or for someone you love or respect.
  6. Volunteer for organizations that help others and give back
  7. Add to your gratitude list daily, at least one more thing each day.
  8. When you think a negative thought, try to see the positive side in the situation
  9. Commit to one day a week when you will look for the positives in your day and in all your experiences that day
  10. Reward effort, if someone does something nice for you, do something nice for them.
  11. Meditate and be mindful of your gratitude list during the meditation
  12. Forgive someone or something in order to give yourself the space to let it go
  13. Live mindfully and try to take one day at a time. Don’t focus too much on the past or the future but try to be in the present
  14. See the growth opportunity in your mistakes even it it’s hard to in the moment
  15. Make gratitude a part of family life, share it with each other during meal time
  16. Focus on your strengths and on where you believe you could grow
  17. Share gratitude each day by posting a tweet, Facebook post or Pinterest.
  18. Create a gratitude jar, write down your daily gratitude and then read them back at the end of the year to reflect and connect with yourself and your experiences
  19. Pay attention to your senses—everything you’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and maybe even tasting—and see how many things you can find to feel grateful for.

It would seem that the practice of gratitude has irrefutable relevance to both the understanding and development of both wellbeing and life satisfaction.

This list of ideas for your own practice may seem too simple, or too straightforward. However, many research projects and many studies have repeatedly shown that the results are overwhelmingly positive.

Put simply, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

NB: The author expresses her gratitude for the time you took to read this article.