How practising genuine gratitude can boost health and happiness

You might say ‘thanks’ dozens of times a day, but feeling real gratitude can be even better. Here’s why being genuinely thankful can positively impact your wellbeing.

Whether it’s saying “thanks”, “cheers” or “ta”, we’re conditioned to thank people for things all the time, often on autopilot.

And that means we give a lot of thanks without really thinking about it.

It turns out that really being thankful – aka gratitude – delivers genuine health benefits.

Why gratitude is great for your health

In fact, research shows that when you actively practise gratitude your sleep and your stress levels will improve, you’ll have more patience and you’ll be more resilient to life’s hurdles and hiccups, too.

Research also shows that the more you practise gratitude, the happier you’ll be, as well.

That’s no surprise to meditation and mindfulness instructor Luke McLeod.

“I find that when I go to gratitude, it instantly makes me feel better and the simplest way I can explain that is that I see gratitude as sitting on the other end of the anxiety spectrum,” Luke, founder of meditation platform Soul Alive, says.

“For example, when I feel anxious, it’s usually when I’m thinking about something which might happen or something that has happened, which I don’t want to happen again in the future.

“In other words, it’s thinking and feeling ‘what if?’, whereas gratitude sits on the other end of that spectrum. Gratitude is all about ‘what is’.”

Gratitude delivers long-lasting benefits

Research sheds light on this fact, too, with one study showing that three months after participating in a gratitude-building program, people’s brains still show heightened activity in regions associated with the emotion.

Therapist and host of The Curious Life podcast Jana Firestone says the fact that gratitude impacts the brain’s physiology is special.

“In many ways, I think gratitude started off as a bit of a ‘woo-woo’ concept,” Jana says.

“But we now know that it really, truly does change the way our brains work, helping to activate different areas of the brain at the same time.

“And the effect can stay with you for weeks, if not months, so that practising gratitude has a long-lasting effect on your brain.”

5 facts you need to know about gratitude

Keen to inject a bit more gratitude into your life?

These handy tips will help you achieve it.

1. It pays to make a habit out of practising gratitude.

“This simply means spending a couple of minutes a day, every day, ‘doing gratitude’,” Jana says.

“That could mean writing the two or three things you’re grateful for today down on paper or simply thinking about them, but it does pay to make this an intentional practice.”

2. What you’re grateful for doesn’t have to be life-changing.

“The smaller the things you can find to be grateful for, the better because that reinforces the fact that no matter what else might be happening in your life, there’s always something to be thankful for,” Luke says.

3. You need to dig a bit deeper into what you’re grateful for.

This will prevent your gratitude practice from losing its power.

“Whatever you choose as being something you’re grateful for ask yourself why you’re grateful for it,” Luke says.

“For example, why specifically are you grateful for your family or your partner or your friend today?”

Jana agrees you need to dig a little deeper.

“You do need to put a bit of thought into it, rather than just rolling out the same three things every day,” she says.

“Or, if you are, for example, grateful for your dog most days, dig down a little deeper to find something specific that you’re grateful for about your dog, each day.”

4. Gratitude isn’t about pretending everything’s OK.

“It’s important not to confuse gratitude with positive thinking, which can create a bit of a fake reality,” Luke says.

“Gratitude isn’t about anything that’s fake.

“It’s all about ‘what is’ or ‘what’s real’ that you’re grateful for, even during those times – in fact especially during those times – when life is challenging.”

5. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying it.

“I encourage everyone to give it a go,” Jana says.

“You might feel a bit rusty or awkward at first, but given it’s free to try and doesn’t take up much time, you’ve got nothing to lose, only things to gain.”

Written by Karen Fittall.