Do ing good makes you feel good – it’s not a new concept, but a growing bank of data is showing that expressing thanks for the good that is done to you could improve your health. To put that statement into perspective: a slew of research shows that feeling gracious on a day-to-day basis could make you care better for yourself, sleep well, experience less depression, avoid overeating and become more patient. It could even increase the chance of your happiness lasting.
Gratitude can have significant mental and physical benefits,’ says Neil Seligman, mindfulness teacher neilseligman.com). ‘It can improve your immune function and lower your blood pressure, plus reduce the risk of depression, anxiety and addiction. Grateful people have been shown experience greater joy, enthusiasm, love and optimism. They have also increased helpfulness, generosity and cooperation, so it’s a win-win situation.’
Of course, gratitude practice isn’t new – for centuries, civilisations have been giving thanks through food offerings to spiritual figures or praying when waking up and before falling asleep. In fact, many cultures still practise gratitude at annual festivities and holidays today. Chances are, then, that you’ve already heard of gratitude practice, so why is it suddenly popular among the masses? ‘We live in easy times when basic needs are met, yet we’re unhappier and more depressed than ever,’ explains Aneta Grabiec, a yoga teacher at Re:Centre (recentre.co.uk). ‘We seem to have lost value, focus, meaning and purpose – never before have we suffered so much loneliness and mental health challenges. Humanity is desperate for a change, and that’s where gratitude practice comes in.’ SIMPLE SCIENCE It’s not all talk, either.
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The power of gratitude is backed by decades of research. Most recently, one study from the University of Texas in the US showed that writing thank-you notes improved the wellbeing of both recipient and writer Another report entitled the Review of Communication argues that being thankful contributes to the long-term success of relationships – ‘up to six months after a deliberate expression to one’s relationship partner,’ claim the authors. But just how does it work? ‘Gratitude practice redirects your attention to notice positive experiences,’ explains Seligman. ‘As a result, your awareness becomes more attuned to the little things that happen each day that are worth appreciating. Given the brain’s propensity to dwell on the negative, this redirection has beneficial consequences. And there’s a neuroplasticity effect, too. ‘It rewires our brain and, therefore, reshapes our mind and body on numerous levels,’ adds Grabiec. ‘Psychologist Robert Emmons spent most of his life studying the subject of gratitude and his evidence proves that regular practice contributes to better health, more happiness and stronger relationships with others.’