Working with mindfulness practices both for clients, and myself, I have become increasingly aware of its ‘sister’ gratitude practice. Over April I participated in ‘a month of gratitude’, a concept run by a Positive Psychology program I follow. The reason I took up this month long practice was that while I conceptually understood gratitude, I didn’t find myself feeling it as often as I could.
Gratitude practice can take many different forms such as gratitude meditation or contemplation, a gratitude journal, reading about gratitude, using a gratitude app, telling others how grateful you are and the list goes on. For more ideas check out this article, which lists 26 different exercises and activities.
Studies into both mindfulness and gratitude similarly show increased levels of well-being. Unsurprisingly, gratitude practice can lead to increased feeling of gratitude and as well as long term benefits, the results can be quite immediate, bringing with it all the benefits of gratitude. For some of my clients in particular this includes more effective pain management. Other benefits include:
- It can make you more mindful, which then brings about positive benefits of mindfulness as well!
- Gratitude can increase sleep quality (Jackowska, 2016).
- A three-month gratitude journal trial found that participants found things to be grateful for and were able to express their gratitude more readily, both of which had positive impacts on wellbeing, mood and depression (O’Connell, O’Shea, & Gallagher, 2017).
- Gratitude has also been shown to increase our self-esteem and positive emotions (Amin, 2014, Rash, Matsuba, & Prkachin, 2011)
I suspect that rather than a direct benefit, improvements in mood and sleep following gratitude practice is what actually brings about positive impacts on pain. Really though, improvements in any of those areas is a positive thing.
Initially to prompt myself to practice gratitude I followed Brianna Steinhilber of everup.com and wrote down why I felt grateful but by the end of the month I found I didn’t need to journal everyday. Rather I thought about gratitude, spent short periods of time contemplating how I felt grateful and practiced gratitude in practical ways, like thanking others and taking time to just enjoy moments – walking in the local reserve, having hugs with my dog, enjoying my morning coffee (oh so much!), delighting in catching up with my mum unexpectedly etc.
I have really relished the experience of feeling grateful more often and find I tune into to things to be grateful for more readily. I didn’t always find it easy and some days I was like ‘OMG what am I going to feel grateful for today’…but the feeling didn’t last long. Overall I know it has been a useful experience for me, and I plan to continue practicing and feeling gratitude on a regular basis.
Here are some of Brianna’s prompts you can use as a tool (I particularly like this one – When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably—relive the memory):
- List five small ways that you can share your gratitude today.
- Write about a person in your life that you’re especially grateful for and why.
- What skills or abilities are you thankful to have? (You communicate well, you’re a good cook, you have an uncanny ability to dominate in Fantasy Football. Hey, it’s your journal).
- What is there about a challenge you’re experiencing right now that you can be thankful for? (This is a tough one, but you have learned something or grown from the hardship—how?).
- How is where you are in life today different than a year ago–and what positive changes are you thankful for?
- What activities and hobbies would you miss if you were unable to do them?
- List five body parts that you’re grateful for and why. (Those long legs help you reach items on the top shelf … don’t forget the little things).
- What about the city you live in are you grateful for?
- What are you taking for granted about your day to day that you can be thankful for? (Can’t think of any? Your alarm clock, your coffee machine, the paperboy who delivered your newspaper, your friendly neighbour who always says good morning … and that’s before you even leave the house).
- List 5 people in your life who are hard to get along with—and write down at least one quality for each that you are grateful for.
- What materialistic items are you most grateful for?
- Write about the music you’re thankful to be able to listen to and why. (We couldn’t make it five minutes on the treadmill without our beats).
- Who has done something this week to help you or make your life easier and how can you thank them?
- What foods or meals are you most thankful for? (Bacon, egg and cheese on Monday morning, we’re looking at you).
- What elements of nature are you grateful for and why? (The beach, a starry sky or one speckled with fluffy clouds, the sunset…).
- What part of your morning routine are you most thankful for? (A big stretch before you get out of bed, that warm cup of coffee, a cuddle session with your pet…).
- Write a letter to someone who has positively impacted your life, however big or small.
- What is something you’re grateful to have learned this week?
- When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably—relive the memory.
- What aspects of your work environment are you thankful for? (Supportive co-workers, flexible hours, great snacks in the kitchen…) (Steinhilber, 2015)
For more inspiration check out this entire article, which has 10 different Ted Talks about gratitude and below I have put down a gratitude meditation: