Gratitude is the readiness to show appreciation for things received and to reciprocate kindness. It enables us to see the good in our lives.
We realise that this goodness lies beyond us hence we are able to connect with nature, other people and a higher being.
In positive psychology, gratitude has been linked to greater happiness and fulfilment. It helps us to experience positive emotions, deviating us from stressors and struggles in our lives. We relish the good experiences, both in the present and in the past. It also helps us to build strong relationships.
Thankfulness also promotes higher self-esteem, enthusiasm, alertness, energy and determination.
THE SCIENCE OF GRATITUDE ON MENTAL HEALTH
Many studies done in the past show a correlation between gratitude and improved mental health. Such a study was conducted by two psychologists, Dr Joshua Brown and Dr Joel Wong, PhD, in 2017.
The aim was to gauge changes in brain activity from an event of gratitude, under a Focused Magnetic Resonance Imaging, fMRI, scanner. This scanner measures small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity.
The 300 adult subjects were asked to pay tribute to those they felt it was due by writing gratitude letters and giving gifts.
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There was a distinct difference in results between those who wrote letters and those who did not. The former showed improved brain activity on the medial prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain responsible for decision-making and memory.
The effect of gratitude on the brain is long-lasting; this is evident from the scans done on those gratitude letter writers three months after. Problems in the medial prefrontal cortex results in blunted emotional response, irritability, agitation, aggression, poor performance in tasks and struggle to initiate activity.
Another research was conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University in 2021. It concluded that thankfulness can greatly reduce symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety, phobia and drug dependency. Does any of these symptoms sound familiar? Try gratitude.
EFFECTS OF GRATITUDE ON SELF-ESTEEM AND RELATIONSHIPS
Being thankful reduces social comparisons. Comparing ourselves to others leaves us feeling stressed, resentful, dissatisfied and envious.
Besides these negative emotions, our self-esteem will be trampled beneath, we start feeling like we are not good enough, like we are not trying hard enough and that we are worthless. Stop comparing yourself to others and start counting your blessings, you will start feeling much better about yourself.
People who show gratitude to and for their partners, friends and family have better and stronger relationships. A grateful person is more likely to empathise, be generous, be emotionally available and forgive willingly.
An environment of gratitude is marked with more positive feelings. There is less bitterness, anger and strife. If you are struggling to relate with a loved one, try gratitude. Even if you do not tell them, your attitude towards them will be much better.
CULTIVATING AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Gratitude is more than just saying “Thank you”. It is an attitude cultivated intentionally and with time. Inherently, we focus more on what is wrong than what is right. We complain more than we appreciate. We look for faults and errors in people and events. Becoming grateful, therefore, may feel contrived at first but here are a few practical tips you could use.
Say “Thank You” every time someone does or gives you something. Try writing a thank you note; nurture your relationships by writing letters, texts, cards or emails expressing your gratitude for their impact in your life.
Do this at least twice a month and occasionally, write one to yourself. If the circumstances do not allow it, try thanking someone mentally.
Keep a gratitude journal, and take a few minutes every day to write down the things you are truly grateful for. Surely, there must be something, even if it is just being alive. Try sharing it with a loved one.
If you are a religious person, remember to include thanksgiving in your prayers. You could also try mindful meditation.