By Helen Gibson MA
What to say about gratitude? I find it one of the most amazing practices I’ve ever developed, an essential gift to the self. To find out this practice has some science behind it is a win-win. A number of studies into the benefits of gratitude are linked below.
I could tell you, and you will read, about the benefits in the various study links. However, I believe the best way to prove something of value is to utilise it, to experience it within your daily lives. With this in mind, I’ve developed a five-day ‘challenge’ if you will, a way of seeing how gratitude can enhance your entire life and the lives of those around you. I will highlight some of the benefits within each day.
The choice to engage is yours; you could, if you wish, read the entire five days in one go and forego the experience. Or you could immerse yourself into gratitude; I highly recommend the latter.
Here is your five-day prescription of gratitude. Please apply liberally throughout your life 😊
I thought it would be prudent to take a look at what it is that we hope we achieve, why we are doing the challenge, and to go a little deeper. So this is where I share with you the benefits of having a gratitude practice. Why? Because it will, literally, change your life for the better – guaranteed. You may not believe me; even at the end of the five days you may still be resistant to acknowledge that it has made even the slightest of differences (you’d have to really not want any positive change for this to happen). This is how confident I and the millions of people on this beautiful planet are in the power of gratitude. I will say now, though, that to truly reap the benefits of gratitude, it should be practiced as often as possible within your day.
We have all, hopefully, been taught the importance of saying thank you when receiving a gift. Something that our parents instilled in us, referring to manners, say please and thank you. However, what I am asking you to do is become even more grateful, in more areas of your life.
Firstly, let us define gratitude; what is gratitude?
Bing offers this definition:
the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
The act of being grateful/thankful.”
I’ve often pondered on being grateful, thankful, as for many years I was encouraged to be grateful for everything in my life, the good, the bad, the joyous, the painful. I found this really difficult. It was easy to be thankful for the things I wanted and received; it was very much harder to be thankful for some of the more distressing aspects of my being. I could say the words, but the energy behind them and the sentiment were entirely different, so was I being grateful, but was I truly expressing gratitude? I’ll return to this later.
Over the next five days, we’ll look at the benefits of gratitude, and how to achieve these benefits. I will encourage you to think a little outside the box at the things you’re grateful for; as you begin developing your gratitude practice, you may begin to see slight shifts in other areas of your life, you may see huge ones, but gratitude is something that I have found works best when applied liberally and consistently into your daily comings and goings. We will also take a look at the science behind gratitude.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that initially ‘making’ yourself grateful may seem a little too contrived to be authentic or real. I encourage you to still engage – what have you got to lose?
Before I set your first task, I would like to express my gratitude that you’ve read thus far and have made a decision to engage with gratitude.
I believe that a practice of gratitude within your daily life will be of immense benefit to you, to the wider community, and the world at large. During this week, I intend to provide you with the positive reasons why gratitude will benefit you. Some of the information is easily accessible online and I encourage you to follow the links and learn more about gratitude.
The most widely accepted benefits of gratitude are:
Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
Gratitude improves physical health.
Gratitude can make you more patient.
Gratitude improves psychological health.
Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
Gratitude may stop you from overeating.
Grateful people sleep better.
Gratitude improves self-esteem.
Gratitude increases mental strength.
These are just a few of the identified benefits, it really does impact and inform many areas of your life; you can find out more about these and the many benefits by clicking on the links below:
Today’s task is to begin a Gratitude Journal. Take ownership of your journal; if you prefer to make your marks on paper in picture form, written form, creating collages of pictures you have, however you wish to express yourself within your journal is entirely up to you. You can use existing books, create your own folders, scrapbooks. I’m not the most tech-savvy but below you will find some links to online gratitude journals (I cannot testify to the effectiveness of these products within the links as I’ve not used them personally). There are apps, for your smartphones and devices. I urge you to find the one that works for you. I would recommend that you write/draw/create your own journal, as there is something very powerful when you engage in this way. I am so grateful that we are all so different; you can be as diverse as you want. It’s your journal – own it. You need to make at least one entry in your journal in the morning, and another at night before you go to bed. You can, if you wish, make more entries during your day, but only two are requested. I would also ask that you try to be grateful for different things/people each time, but if you’re grateful more than once or twice/thrice for something, or someone, that’s ok too 😊
I’d like now to return to my earlier sentiments on the expression of gratitude, and the difference in the energy behind it. Picture this, scenario one: you’ve been admiring a new item for some time, you’ve spoken about and dreamt about it, and even started to save for it; then someone presents you with a gift. You unwrap the gift and it’s the thing that you’ve been wanting, dreaming, and saving for; they have given it to you as a gift, how do you feel? The chances are, you’re excited, humbled, overwhelmed, speechless, emotional, and grateful, very grateful; you may have even said thank you enough times for the giver to say ‘enough, no more thank yous are necessary!’
Or scenario two: you are out and about and decide to get a coffee; you get to the checkout and find that you’ve forgotten your wallet/purse. You’re extremely embarrassed, but the person behind you says, ‘Just add it to my bill’. You’re probably even more embarrassed, a little relieved, you may even try to decline; but you are grateful, you express your gratitude and say thank you. Or the cashier says, ‘It’s ok, someone paid it forward, so you’re covered’, again you are grateful and say, ‘Thank you’.
Both of these examples offer us a glimpse of the energy that can be generated when we are grateful for something that we want and receive.
Now picture this: your child or someone you care about is involved in an incident, perhaps a car accident, but comes through it unhurt and unharmed, a little shook up and disorientated, but unhurt. You are grateful that they’re not hurt; this energy is again different, your gratitude is as immense, but your energy behind this gratitude is different.
Another scenario: you’ve read this far and are thinking, ‘Not sure I can read much more’. You’re grateful that you managed to get this far, and you are committed to continuing but right now you’re ready to do something else! You now read that we are coming to the end of day one, and the energy behind this gratitude is different again.
What I want to highlight is that the energy behind gratitude is different depending upon numerous factors, such as: how you are feeling at any given moment, the situation, the environment… None of them lessen the gratitude, but it’s helpful to be mindful of what type of energy you want to put behind your expression of gratitude. We are currently on a journey to create an energy somewhere in the realms of our first and second examples; not as easy as we would have hoped, but it is our intention to continue to do this.
The last part of our Day One challenge is for you to complete our Gratitude Game – enjoy! Psst, you can use this to begin your journal!
If you find this is too difficult at this time, then I would encourage you to find at least one thing that you are grateful for and complete your journal. If finding one thing is difficult, I would encourage you to think about being grateful that you are able to read and join this challenge.
Be Blessed, Be Grateful.
Day One Links:
Online Gratitude Journal:
Gratitude Journal Apps:
There may be more than the links we have provided; we suggest you look further and find one that resonates with you.
Benefits of Gratitude:
Today we are going to look further into some of the benefits mentioned yesterday.
Gratitude improves psychological health:
Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression*.
Psychological health is improved when you focus on gratitude as it’s unlikely that things that can be detrimental to your well-being will have the same impact if you’re focused on gratitude. It is well-documented that what we look for we will find. Hence the term ‘seek and ye shall find’. Have you ever noticed that when you think about something or hear a certain type of news, that these things appear to become more present in your life? For example, I remember when I first became pregnant, it was like every other woman I came into contact with was pregnant; the world was pregnant with me! It’s a lot like these darned cookies that follow us on the world wide web: we may be thinking of buying a new car, maybe a red one; not only do we see lots of red cars as we’re out and about, but if we put it into our search engine or mention it to someone online, there is a very good chance that the adverts as we surf will start to promote car buying. Focusing on being grateful for what you have, rather than focusing on your perceptions of lack and wrong, will begin to create new pathways within your brain that will prove beneficial to your wider outlook on life.
Just to note, I’m not saying that if there are issues within your life which require your attention that you ignore them, and focus on gratitude. However, being grateful that you can sort these issues out is something to be grateful for, that you have the skill set necessary, is something that you could be grateful for, that you have been afforded an opportunity to grow and learn.
Day Two’s task is to reflect on how you accept gratitude. When someone says thank you for a gift, or for your service – whatever the multitude of scenarios can be whereby someone says thank you to you and expresses their gratitude – do you accept their gratitude, or do you try to deflect their gratitude, or play down whatever it is that they are grateful for? Do you have a ‘No Entry’ for gratitude? If you do these things, do you know why? Receiving gratitude is an art that you may need to develop. It is important to allow people a space to express their gratitude for you, or to you; their gratitude is their gift, accept it graciously. I encourage you to journal your thoughts on how you receive gratitude.
I also want you to reflect on your relationship with your own body. Liking your body and appreciating it are not the same. Once you begin to be grateful for your body, you will then begin to truly appreciate it, and this will take how you like it to a whole new level.
I now encourage you to complete your journal. Again, if you find this difficult, play the Gratitude Game or find one thing about you that you are grateful for: does your body’s waste system work effectively? are you able to release your waste? Be grateful for this.
Be Blessed, Be Grateful
I hope you’re enjoying developing your gratitude practice and that you’ve not done it all in one day.
Today, we’re going to present some of the findings of science about gratitude, psychological sciences, and also neuroscience.
There have been a number of studies on gratitude and the Greater Good Science Centre (University of California, Berkeley) is dedicated to continual exploration and study of within the psychological, sociological, neuroscience, and well-being and, as such, gratitude is an area of study. You will see a link below to its website.
One of Berkeley’s major studies has informed modern-day approaches to gratitude (link below to full study). The study by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough has been highlighted and adapted by many practitioners in developing the benefits of gratitude, some of which have again been highlighted on our first day. One aspect of their study found that those who exercised gratitude over time were more likely to offer emotional and practical help and support to others. Exercising gratitude actually helps you become a more meaningful and giving person.
Another aspect of the study that resonates with me was that partners of people living with NMD (neuromuscular diseases) noted the benefits to their partners, as they exercised gratitude whilst on the study. I found this very powerful, as this was an external observation of how gratitude not only benefits the person practising gratitude, but that it enhances the lives of those close to them.
A study on the brain carried out in 2009 noted an increase in dopamine which directly affects our feel-good factor but also has a positive effect upon our action; hence why gratitude aids in getting more done. This same study also noted the effects of gratitude in the hypothalamus which controls many bodily functions: sleep, eating, drinking.
All of these studies have shown that, in essence, gratitude is something that if practiced over time will enhance the lives of not only those who practice but their wider circles.
Our Day Three task is to write two letters of gratitude, one to someone in your life to whom you are grateful. Maybe it was a lesson they taught you, or a helping hand when needed; anyone to whom you are truly grateful. The second letter is to someone or a situation who/what has challenged you and you’ve found difficulty with; what did you learn? what insight did this interaction give you? I acknowledge that this may not be the easiest of tasks. You then have a choice to post these letters, if the recipients are able to receive them, or go to them and read them in person if this is doable – this applies to both letters! There is no requirement to send or deliver these letters, it is just an option. There is no right or wrong in whatever you decide. You may wish to put them into your journal.
The penultimate day of a foundational practice. I do hope you’ve found your journey into gratitude a worthwhile one; I am confident that you will have.
I would like you to reflect on what you’ve experienced during these four days. Has your perception of gratitude altered in any way? do you have a deeper appreciation of how gratitude can alter your life for the better? has this been what you expected? have you found it useful and purposeful? I would love to hear from you, sharing your thoughts and experiences will not only enhance how I move forward but will be of immense benefit to others who have also joined this journey. You are a unique part of creation with a unique perspective, your experience is welcomed and valued.
The challenge for today is to say thank you to a stranger for their service. It could be the barista at the coffee shop who’s giving us our morning/afternoon brew; thank them in a way that is beyond the usual ‘thank you’. I hope you will have gained a deeper understanding of the different nuances in gratitude. We often think of thanking our doctors, nurses, firefighters, armed forces personnel, etc. How about thanking the street cleaner, the busker, the office cleaner, the homeless volunteer worker, the waste disposal workers, the sewage workers, those who take away our waste! There are literally millions of ordinary everyday people who do extraordinary activities on a daily basis, sometimes as part of their work, and sometimes because they enjoy giving. Think of an industry that you may not have directly engaged with and take some time to thank them.
I appreciate that this may not actually be an easy thing to do. But sharing gratitude in this way is so hugely powerful; for some who go through life feeling unvalued, it can be a profound experience. Do not underestimate the power of gratitude from one human to another.
I once was in a queue in a fast-food outlet and behind me were two care workers, obviously in-between visits by their conversation. I turned and asked, ‘Has anyone thanked you for the work you do with those who are not able to do for themselves anymore?’ They looked a little confused but responded ‘No’. I then said, ‘Thank you for the work you do. I for one, and I know I am not alone, thank you’. The lift in how they stood was clearly visible; they thanked me for thanking them and their smile was infectious. The impact upon me was fabulous too, although this was a welcomed side effect.
I would encourage you to express your experiences in your Gratitude Journal.
I’m aware that today’s task may be difficult as some of us are living under restrictive regimes. Please ensure your safety when expediting today’s task.
Wow, you’ve done it, you’ve completed a five-day Gratitude challenge. How was it for you?
I sincerely hope that you are gaining from this.
How did you find yesterday’s task? I know the benefit not only to the person receiving our gratitude but also how it impacts upon as us the giver of gratitude to those who may not usually be on our radars. Sharing gratitude in this way is quite literally life-altering, as the person receiving continues their day more appreciated and lifted.
Your fifth and final task in creating or deepening your gratitude practice is to continue. Continue with your journal, continue to allow others to be grateful for you and the things you do, continue to write, and let those who inspire and motivate you know that you are grateful. Continue to let those who challenge and irritate you know that you are grateful, continue to let those who go about their daily lives know that you are grateful they are there and, finally, continue to know that I am grateful for you, your energy, your time, and your commitment to you and the world.
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