The power and practice of gratitude
Gratitude is defined by the dictionary as ‘the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.’ Feeling grateful is a skill that can be developed with practice; it is easy enough to do with a bit of commitment, it can be quick to practice if you want it to be and the benefits can be, frankly, awesome.
If you already practice gratitude, I think you will know the feeling I mean. If you are yet to practice, then I’m already looking forward to you reaping the benefits. Practising gratitude is a little step further than saying thank you to someone, it is taking a few extra moments of time to really sit with that feeling of thankfulness.
Practising gratitude, for me, is a personal practice, it is extra seconds spent throughout my day simply recognising my feelings for the smallest, sometimes the most ordinary, everyday things. It is about taking time to feel thankful for the things that can be so easy to overlook; for the cup of tea, the sun rising in the morning, the glow of the moon at night, a moment of quiet, the noise of the rain on the window, a call with a friend, a kind gesture from a stranger, a warm bed, a belly laugh...It is all about acknowledging the good in your life, no matter how big or how small – the practice serves to spark joy in the everyday.
There is a wonderful Maori proverb that says, “turn your face toward the sun and the shadows will fall behind you” – this sums up the benefit of practising gratitude for me, over time it builds up and fills you up so that the shadows seem less dark and more distant.
It is important to say, however, that practising gratitude is not about feeling happy all the time, it is not about forcing positive feelings when they are not there and heading down a road of toxic positivity. Just because we can see and feel the joy in the things that we do have in our lives, doesn’t mean that there are not bad things too. Practising gratitude serves to heighten our awareness of the brighter things so we feel more resilient and daily stressors are minimised.
How to start practising gratitude
Spending a few minutes journaling when you wake up or before you go to sleep at night, simply listing 3 to 5 things you are grateful for right now. Over time you could also think about different journal prompts, such as:
- What skills do you have that you are grateful for?
- Which friend are you most grateful for and why?
- Which part of the morning/evening are you most grateful for?
- What is one thing you are grateful for this year, that you didn’t have last year?
Making a gratitude jar, a personal one or a family one, filling it with notes of things you feel grateful for each day or week and then emptying it and reading them back on difficult days or each month.
If you’re a bit more creative you could recreate something like Hayley Bartholomew’s 365 Grateful Project. Hayley explains in her TED talk how she used photography to practice gratitude, taking a new photo every day of just one thing she is thankful for.
Saying ‘thank you’ or sharing that you are grateful with others – this might look like a text to a friend to remind them how loved they or writing a letter and delivering it in person.
Studies from the University of California at the Greater Good Science Centre have shown that grateful people recover from stress faster, sleep better and feel less lonely, to mention just a few of the benefits! Practicing gratitude will help you to notice the things that may normally go unnoticed, it can bring a sense of fullness and contentment.
“Every time you breathe an ‘ahhhh’ or savour a moment, a thank-you for being alive is rising from your soul to fill your heart…a thank-you that I am here, and that I have a place in the universe. Yes, it’s about being at this particular concert, but it’s more: it’s gratitude that such music could be composed and played, and that I can hear it”
– Jean Shinoda Bolen