Cultivating Gratitude

Gratitude seems to be a buzz word in the wellbeing community, everywhere we turn, people are telling us to be grateful. But this is no fad, cultivating gratitude has been proven to increase willpower, help people cope with stress and even combat anxiety and depression.

By now, most of us are aware that our mind is a powerful force. We know that we can think our way into different brain waves and manipulate the physiology of our body with thoughts alone and creating a feeling of gratitude is no different in terms of its ability to affect the brain and body.

Studies show that cultivating gratitude has neural effects that are long lasting. Manifesting a feeling of gratitude works the equivalent of a gratitude muscle in the brain that leads scientists to believe that the more we count our blessings, the more effortlessly we notice them in future.

Gratitude is good for the world. The areas of the brain affected by gratitude are the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) which are associated with moral judgement, understanding for others, social interactions and bonding. Gratitude is a social emotion that leads us to find ways to benefit others as well as connect with them and their perspective. Gratitude has been proven to motivate us to do things for other people as it inspires generosity, charity and compassion.

Research tells us that grateful people are more likely to take care of their physical health, eating well, exercising and remaining clam in tense situations. Gratitude creates a sense of optimism which has been proven to boost the immune system. Gratitude has also been linked with better quality sleep, energy levels and healthy blood pressure. In fact those keeping a weekly gratitude journal have been found to experience fewer physical symptoms of disease, faster recovery rates from illness and increased mental health.

Yet another benefit of cultivating gratitude is the sense of purpose and desire for action that it enables. Gratitude improves our decision making abilities and our productivity levels. Those who focus on creating a feeling of gratitude in their lives are proven to work more consciously towards achieving their goals than those who don’t.

Gratitude can even help us to recover from past trauma, betrayal or upset. Studies find that those who look to these experiences for positive lessons or aspects they can be grateful for are more resilient in the face of difficult memories and report feelings of peace and closure.

So, how can we cultivate a feeling of gratitude so that we too can become healthier, more productive and socially conscious?

  1. Take the time to make a list of 5 things you are grateful for every evening.
  2. Write a monthly letter to someone in your life thanking them for something.
  3. At the end of every week, focus on the positive aspect of a difficult situation and be grateful for it.
  4. Share your gratitude with others by paying it forwards with acts of kindness.
  5. Fill a jar with a weekly note of gratitude to be read at the end of the year.