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  • Writer's pictureJulie Burn

The Power of Gratitude

"Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things"

-Robert Brault

If you knew there was something available to you, that wouldn't cost you a penny, that may win you new friendships, improve your physical and emotional health, get you a good night's sleep and boost your self-esteem, would you be interested?... Err Yeah!!

Well the good news is you can have all of the above. How? By practising the simple, yet profoundly life-altering, art of gratitude. When people begin a gratitude practice, they begin to notice the good things already present in their lives. We all know, it is human nature to often worry and be on the look out for things that could go wrong - an evolutionary hangover from the days when we had to be alert and aware of animal attacks, or to avoid picking the berries that might kill us. Luckily for us today, we are pretty safe, yet we still are hardwired to be on the look out for the bad stuff. Practising gratitude can help us move away from this.

An article in Positive Psychology states, "the effects of gratitude when practised daily can be almost the same as medications...when we experience gratitude our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, making us feel good and improving our mood". So how does one begin a gratitude practice? Well, it can take a bit of getting used to, but practice makes perfect, so they say, so here are some tips on getting started on your gratitude journey:

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Either buy yourself a nice, new notebook or find a piece of paper around the house and at the end of every day write down three things that happened to you that day, or that you noticed, for which you are grateful. The aim is to be specific. So instead of writing you are grateful for your kids, your partner and your dog, you might write down that you are grateful that your husband took the rubbish out without being reminded, or that when you came home from work, your dog rushed towards you wagging her tail, bringing you her favourite chew bone. Hopefully it is a given that you will be grateful for your family and pets, but what about noticing:

  • A crisp, frosty morning, a clear blue sky and the sweet sound of birdsong.

  • The first bite of a delicious slice of homemade chocolate cake.

  • Lunch with an old friend, and giggles galore.

  • Waking refreshed after the first good night's sleep in what feels like forever.

The list is yours to make and can include whatever has made you smile that day. The point is to notice the little moments - the special in the everyday.

Perform Random Acts of Kindness

Research shows that helping other people can be beneficial for us. Not only does the recipient of our kindness feel good but we can too, including better emotional, and sometimes physical health, and reduced stress levels.

Some common acts of kindness may include:

  • Phoning a friend for a good catch up, instead of texting.

  • Walking your neighbour's dog.

  • Offering to cook dinner for your family.

  • Helping a struggling mum on to the bus with her pushchair, toddler and shopping bags.

  • Reading an extra ten minutes to your little one at bedtime.

  • Volunteering in your local community.

Random acts of kindness don't have to be big, long term commitments. The point is they are often done spontaneously, in the moment, and can have a positive impact on another person and you.

Spend time with loved ones, and tell them you care

Try to strengthen relationships with those you care about by spending quality time with them. Meet your elderly mum for a coffee, sit next to your little one and have a hug, look at your partner - and I mean really look at them, don't glance up at them every now and then whilst checking your text messages - when they talk to you.

Also telling family and friends that you care and appreciate them can be very beneficial to you. An experiment carried out by Soul Pancake, a group working on the science of happiness discovered that when people were encouraged to write a letter to someone they were grateful for. This exercise alone, boosted participants levels of happiness from 2% to 4%. Happiness levels jumped even higher, from 4% to 9%, when they called the person on the phone.

Be Grateful for You!

Instead of berating yourself and noticing your perceived physical flaws or things you do wrong, start showing yourself some kindness.

Be grateful for your body and how it gets you around in this world. Notice your value at work, in friendships and in your relationships. In your journal make a list of your good qualities. If you struggle with this initially, think about what a good friend might say are your strong points.

Begin to stop doubting and criticising yourself and begin to show gratitude for who you are, and what you, and you alone, can bring to this world and add to the lives of others.

Many of us live lives yearning for things we don't have: the bigger house, the faster car, the skinnier body, fantastic holidays in faraway locations. Instead of spending what precious time you have here wanting what you don't have, begin showing gratitude for all you do have - a precious partner and kids, wonderful friendships, work that pays the bills, a warm, comfortable home, your health... and of course the multitude of precious, little moments, (the first delicious sip of coffee on a morning, a walk in the park, the waggy-tailed greeting from your dog, a smile from a stranger), that when added up, reveal a life that is perfectly wonderful, right now, just as it is.

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