Can practicing gratitude lead to improved wellbeing?
Gratitude is a human emotion that is about being thankful or showing appreciation. It is viewed either as a trait or state. Gratitude as a trait is where a person practices gratitude in their daily life and is seen as a character strength that can be developed. Gratitude as a state, on the other hand, is viewed as an emotional reaction to a present event or experience.
Gratitude is advocated as a key virtue in major religions, with it being highlighted as a path to a good life. Gratitude is also a part of many people’s cultures. Its position as a fundamental part of improving wellbeing has grown in prominence in more recent years within the field of psychology, with studies showing that gratitude can positively impact people’s wellbeing, as well as combat against negative states and emotion.
Increased knowledge and understanding of the influence of gratitude as a psychological intervention has huge implications for people working in the mental health sector who seek to help people struggling with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, or for people wanting to generally improve their overall wellbeing.
Research has shown that forgiveness and gratitude are associated with many measures of physical and psychological wellbeing. Gratitude writing, where people having psychotherapy write letters expressing gratitude to others, has been shown to improve mental health when used as a positive psychological intervention (PPI) for psychotherapy clients. Gratitude-based interventions have also been shown to enable people to be more thankful for things in their lives, have improved life satisfaction, greater environmental mastery and increased social feelings.
Robert Emmons, an expert in gratitude, has found that people who consistently practice gratitude claim a host of physical, psychological and social benefits. These include: stronger immune systems; being less bothered by aches and pains; taking better care of your health; better sleep; having higher levels of positive emotions; being more alert, joyful, optimistic and happy; being more helpful, generous and compassionate; being more forgiving and outgoing; and feeling less lonely and isolated.
There are various psychological interventions that can enhance gratitude for certain individuals. Journaling about things you are thankful for and writing letters to people to whom you are grateful (as noted above) are likely the most common approaches. However, these don’t suit everyone – especially if you’re not a fan of writing. Setting yourself time each day to think about someone or something you are thankful for, enhancing how sincere you are when saying thank you to someone for something you are truly grateful for or making a short note each day of something you are thankful for from that day, are all simple ways to focus on gratitude in a bid to improve your wellbeing.
There are many more ways to integrate gratitude interventions into your life to improve wellbeing. Some interventions will suit some people and not others, but the key thing is a willingness to try.
When people are feeling low, it can seem more difficult to think of what there is to be grateful for. However, from practicing gratitude, you may be surprised by just how much you have in your life to be thankful for and how acknowledging them can improve how you feel.