Why are we focusing on gratitude right now?
By Pip Gwynn, Director and Business Psychologist
In a world where so many of the things we take for granted are no longer possible and when we are losing so much, it is important to find some positivity and hope. From our work in psychology and resilience, we know that making a conscious effort to think positively is great for our physical and mental wellbeing, our ability to think clearly and to be kinder to others.
Any positive emotions can help our wellbeing and I would encourage you to hold onto any joy, excitement, wonder, contentment, pride or hope that you can find. However, gratitude seems like a particular wonder drug in terms of its benefits both for us and for others. And it’s one that as a community is really important at the moment.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
Gratitude is an emotion or attitude of appreciation where we acknowledge some benefit we have received. Gratitude can revolve around anything you feel great appreciation for, and occurs during the times when you feel thankful for someone or something in your life (1).
Probably the biggest benefit of expressing gratitude towards others is that it makes them feel good. Making other people feel good makes us feel good so it’s a win-win. In addition, recipients of gratitude are more likely to behave positively in future because they felt good, which makes us feel good! So we can end up with a never ending upwards cycle of feeling good!!
Here are some more benefits:
- People who feel more grateful get more sleep: a study showed that they got to sleep faster, had improved sleep quality, increased sleep duration and had less difficulty staying awake during the day
- They feel less stress and have increased pro-health behaviours (are more likely to look after themselves better and seek medical help when needed)
- People who feel grateful more often develop greater “bounce back” from setbacks and have more proactive coping mechanisms
- Positive emotions support development of a positive cognitive bias which helps us to interpret situations more positively and makes our memories more positive
- Feeling grateful reduces negative emotions: particularly jealousy and envy
- Emotions carry over from one setting to another so if we feel all warm inside through gratitude then that will make it easier to feel other positive emotions. It also then impacts our behaviour and decision-making to act more positively too.
- Feeling gratitude is better for our wellbeing than a pay rise. A pay rise only has a positive impact on our emotions in the short term whereas the practice of feeling grateful has a sustained impact over how we feel.
- Gratitude is seen as almost the opposite of materialism. Some healthy materialism can stretch us to achieve our goals but it can also make us feel less competent and increases jealousy. And in the present moment where there is a limit to what we can buy (and who we can show off to!), focusing on what we have already is a bonus.
- “My manager acknowledges successes or praises people” is, in my experience, often the lowest rated item on employee engagement surveys and 360 feedback. Increasing our gratitude towards colleagues and team members is a really simple way of boosting engagement and wellbeing.
What could we do differently to boost our gratitude?
Some people are just more “gratefully disposed” than others – they feel gratitude more intensely, more frequently, for more minor things and towards more people. The good news though is that gratitude is really easy to boost through practice by articulating the things we are grateful for, however small. This could be through a gratitude journal or sharing with others.
As a family, we all say one thing we’re grateful for when we sit down for dinner (I wish they would reference my cooking slightly more often!).
You could do this in work through a dedicated slot at the beginning of a team meeting which would set a positive tone for the meeting. My experience is that this takes dedication from the team leader as most people feel pretty awkward about this practice to start off with but get into it when they feel the benefits.
Gratitude isn’t particularly situational – there is little difference in levels of gratitude between people living in luxury and those living in poverty. It has much more to do with personality and life perspective, both of which you can shift with effort and commitment.
And whilst I’ve highlighted all the benefits that come to us from feeling gratitude, it’s worth noting that we get the most advantages when we aren’t doing it for ourselves, when we are simply trying to support someone else and thank them for what they’ve done.
So put rainbows in your windows, right positive messages on your pavements and join your neighbours at 8pm on Thursdays to thank the NHS and other key workers. It will give them a massive boost, and it may help you too.