the benefits of being thankful
Dr Jess says: One of my favourite ever quotes by Oprah Winfrey is: “Be thankful for what you have, and you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” This simple quote explains the practice of gratitude in a nutshell.
Practising gratitude puts the Law of Attraction in action. By focusing on what we love and enjoy, we get more. I have felt this in my life many times. Whenever I am at my lowest, I look at the amazing and wonderful things in my life and the gifts that I was given. Even when you can’t find anything, starting with a warm, safe bed and having food to eat can be enough.
Gratitude journals are an incredibly positive tool to help you to acknowledge the things you are thankful for, and the process of writing it down seems to make it more powerful.
Being thankful has been shown to reduce stress by up to 25%. A study of pregnant women found that practising gratitude four times a week had a significant impact on reducing cortisol (stress hormone) levels by nearly 25%.1 Several studies show the huge benefits of gratitude on stress2 and even in those suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).3
Practising gratitude can actually reduce physical pain. Studies have shown that practising gratitude regularly can actually reduce symptoms of disease and physical pain in conditions, like osteoarthritis.4
Being grateful for what we have can also reduce emotional pain, including aggression, anger, jealousy and blame. Emotional pain is often more complex and harder to deal with for many people than physical pain. Studies show there is a direct link between how grateful we feel and emotions like anger,5 jealousy and blame.6 Ho’oponopono and mindfulness may be other techniques that you may find useful if struggling with emotional pain.
Practising gratitude can Improve self-esteem and enhance empathy. A relatively large study showed the huge benefit of gratitude on self-esteem in college students. This practice even indirectly lowered the risk of depression and suicide.7
Improve sleep and energy. A study of gratitude practised for just two weeks showed that it improved feelings of well-being, sleep quality and energy.8 There are several studies showing that this is one of the best psychological practices to do, to improve sleep quality and duration.9
Remember to say a genuine ‘thank you’ to those you appreciate. When you have spent time working in emergency medicine, you are regularly reminded that we often wait until disaster strikes to express our appreciation and love for those most important to us. Why not change that habit? Every time you feel that bond and love for someone around you, tell them! Even if the relationship isn’t perfect, we are always lucky to have people we care about and who care about us in our lives.
Create a gratitude journal. It isn’t difficult – just list five things per day that you are grateful for. This is an amazing, simple tool. It can literally change your life and lighten even the darkest hour. I have even seen parents who have lost a child – the worst possible nightmare for most people – use this tool, to help them get through periods of despair. It has helped people stuck in depression and negativity, to turn their life around. Combine the journaling with ancient practices like Shinrin-yoku and Ho’oponopono, and you have a winning combination for a better quality of life.
How To Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life
Take time away from technology. Make sure that you regularly disconnect and unplug yourself from phones, tablets and computers regularly, to focus on appreciating the richness of the world around you for a few hours. It’s easy to forget the simplicity of life when there are so many distractions, but this is a great habit to get into to find gratitude.
Pay it forward. When you have extra time, money or resources, give some to others in need. Why? Because you can! It feels good to give, without expecting anything in return. Show others that you care, because life has provided for you and abundance is drawn to the generosity of spirit.
Teach thankfulness to your kids. In a world in which many kids have too much (while many others have too little), it is so important to teach children the true value of things. Play a gratitude game before bed, with each of you naming things and people you are grateful for (praise them for whatever they come up with!). Give them a small amount of money and let them pick a charity to donate to, that feels important to them. Create an art project for them to make thank you cards, for the people they value the most.
Connect with strangers. Take time to notice small acts of kindness (like opening a door), and smile and say thank you properly to strangers. (even if you are wearing a mask right now, the eyes show when we are still smiling!). In the modern world, many people feel lonely and isolated, a smile from a stranger can brighten their day.
Meditate on everything that you are thankful for. At The Natural Doctors, we love the practice of meditation and mindfulness. Focus on everything that makes you feel fortunate: the food you have, your home, warmth (both of your home and of the people around you), your friends, family, the beauty of nature. Even on the worst days, it’s easy to remember that you are the luckiest parent (or pet or even plant parent) in the world!
- Matvienko-Sikar K, Dockray S. Effects of a novel positive psychological intervention on prenatal stress and well-being: A pilot randomised controlled trial Women Birth. 2017 Apr;30(2):e111-e118. doi: 10.1016/j.wombi.2016.10.003. Epub 2016 Oct 31. PMID: 27810284.
- Cheng ST, Tsui PK, Lam JH. Improving mental health in health care practitioners: randomized controlled trial of a gratitude intervention J Consult Clin Psychol. 2015 Feb;83(1):177-86. doi: 10.1037/a0037895. Epub 2014 Sep 15. PMID: 25222798.
- Van Dusen JP, Tiamiyu MF, Kashdan TB, Elhai JD. Gratitude, depression and PTSD: Assessment of structural relationships Psychiatry Res. 2015 Dec 30;230(3):867-70. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.11.036. Epub 2015 Nov 25. PMID: 26626947.
- Hausmann LRM, Youk A, Kwoh CK, Ibrahim SA, Hannon MJ, Weiner DK, Gallagher RM, Parks A.Testing a Positive Psychological Intervention for Osteoarthritis . Pain Med. 2017 Oct 1;18(10):1908-1920. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnx141. Erratum in: Pain Med. 2017 Sep 1;18(9):1830. PMID: 29044408; PMCID: PMC5914366.
- Jun WH, Yang J, Lee EJ. The Mediating Effects of Social Support and a Grateful Disposition on the Relationship between Life Stress and Anger in Korean Nursing Students Asian Nurs Res (Korean Soc Nurs Sci). 2018 Sep;12(3):197-202. doi: 10.1016/j.anr.2018.08.002. Epub 2018 Aug 18. PMID: 30130592.
- Katelyn E. Poelker, Judith L. Gibbons, Honore M. Hughes & Kimberly K. Powlishta (2016) Feeling grateful and envious: adolescents’ narratives of social emotions in identity and social development International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 21:3, 289-303, DOI: 10.1080/02673843.2015.1067895
- Lin CC. The relationships among gratitude, self-esteem, depression, and suicidal ideation among undergraduate students Scand J Psychol. 2015 Dec;56(6):700-7. doi: 10.1111/sjop.12252. PMID: 26565734.
- Jackowska M, Brown J, Ronaldson A, Steptoe A. The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep J Health Psychol. 2016 Oct;21(10):2207-17. doi: 10.1177/1359105315572455. Epub 2015 Mar 2. PMID: 25736389.
- Wood AM, Joseph S, Lloyd J, Atkins S. Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions J Psychosom Res. 2009 Jan;66(1):43-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.09.002. Epub 2008 Nov 22. PMID: 19073292.