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The benefits of practicing gratitude

Mental health · Dec 10, 2021

Feeling grateful for things we have is associated with a better sense of well-being.1 It turns out that practicing gratitude may have other benefits too. Elena Iacono, Well-being and Health Services Senior Manager at TELUS, and registered dietitian and mindfulness coach at TELUS Health Care Centres Heather Keylor share their thoughts on what it means to practice gratitude, why it’s good for us, and how to make it a part of our daily routine.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude can be defined2 as a feeling of appreciation or thanks, and the ‘state of being grateful.’

“Gratitude is about being aware of what you have, what your potential is, and appreciating the moment that you’re in,” says Iacono. “It’s being consciously aware that what you have is great, but it’s also about being mindful of what you can do for others.”

To Keylor, taking the time out of your day to really reflect on and appreciate positive things is key to fully practicing gratitude. “It’s not just about having that appreciation,” she says. “It’s also taking the time to notice that you have it.” 

What are the benefits of practicing gratitude?

There are several positive benefits associated with feeling and expressing gratitude.

“Being consciously aware of what you have gives you mental clarity,” says Iacono. “It helps reduce stress and regulates calm. It also helps you navigate any existential thoughts, which I think we all experience at times.”

Research suggests that focusing on one’s blessings may also have interpersonal benefits.3 According to Keylor, being grateful allows you to appreciate others and help build positive relationships. Studies have shown that expressing gratitude to one’s significant other can help improve the quality of their relationship,4 and so too can expressing gratitude to friends help improve friendships.5 As a result, those who practice gratitude are associated with having more access to social support.6

One experiment7required participants to write and deliver thank you notes. The findings showed significant increases in the reported levels of happiness and decreased depressive symptoms of these participants that lasted long after the thank you notes were delivered.

Practicing gratitude can also help improve our sleep,8 build our resilience9 and increase our overall sense of wellbeing.10 It’s also been linked to lower blood pressure11 and better overall physical health. With so many benefits, you may be wondering how to build gratitude into your routine. Iacono and Keylor say it’s easy to get started.

How to start practicing gratitude

There are several ways you can implement a gratitude practice into your day. Both Iacono and Keylor emphasize that this doesn’t have to take up much time or effort to feel the benefits.

Keylor and her husband make a point of reflecting on things they’re each grateful for at the end of the day. “We always share something we’re grateful for in each of the following categories: general, for each other, our dog and our health.” Each person’s ‘categories’ might be different, but she says it’s a useful way to pinpoint specific things and feel gratitude toward them.

Some things you can do to practice gratitude include:

  • Give yourself a minute to just pause, reflect, and be in the moment at least once a day.

  • Practice gratitude at a meal. Think about everything that came together to make that meal possible for you.

  • Write down 3 things you are grateful for before you go to sleep.

  • Make it a family activity. Take turns sharing one thing you’re grateful for, perhaps over dinner.

  • Express gratitude to at least one person every day. This could be your partner, the cashier at the grocery store, or anyone who has made a positive difference in your day.

Remember, the things you feel grateful for don’t have to be monumental. Being grateful for a cup of coffee, a hot shower, or the smell of cinnamon buns all count.

“You can be grateful about anything and everything,” Iacono explains. “Be grateful about whatever makes you happy. Don’t be ashamed of the things you are grateful for, or the things that you love to do that make you feel your best.”

Keylor says that however you practice gratitude, do it in a way that feels authentic to yourself. “However you do it, just do it,” she says. “Whether it’s with an app, writing it down, or expressing it out loud. Be patient with yourself.”

Support is available

Practicing gratitude can have many benefits for our mental health. But sometimes it may be helpful to speak with someone. Find out how the mental health team at TELUS Health Care Centres can help.


References

1, 8, 10. A;, J. M. B. J. R. A. S. (2021, October 16). The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep. Journal of health psychology. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25736389/.

2. Merriam-Webster. (2021). Gratitude definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gratitude.

3. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Apa PsycNet . American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0022-3514.84.2.377.

4,5,6. Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010, March 17). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration . Clinical Psychology Review. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/2Wood-GratitudeWell-BeingReview.pdf.

7. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005, July). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. ResearchGate. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7701091_Positive_Psychology_Progress_Empirical_Validation_of_Interventions.

9. Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008, August). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/the-role-of-gratitude-in-the-development-of-social-support-stress-and-depression-two-longitudinal-studies(1be43a26-9155-405f-acc3-f4126ff161b8).htmlImprove.

11. Shipon, R. W. (2007). Gratitude: Effect on perspectives and blood pressure of inner-city African-American hypertensive patients. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-99018-513.


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