WRITTEN BY ALICIA KOCH, FOUNDER OF THE LEGAL BELLETRIST
Two words we say every single day. Almost like we are automated to say the words. Without giving much thought to the words we are saying – thank you for this, thank you for that.
It’s good manners, thanking people for what they have done or what they have given. Most of us were taught to always show appreciation. Even for the small things.
But is that it?
This got me thinking. What does it really mean to be thankful? To be grateful? The words are often used interchangeably.
If we think about it, to be thankful requires an action by someone else or a positive occurrence around a person in order for them to express gratitude. So, one might say that being grateful is a positive reaction to a positive stimulus.
But that seems rather sterile.
And it occurred to me – perhaps in order to be grateful, one needs to understand what gratitude is.
“Gratitude is an emotion similar to appreciation. The American Psychological Association (n.d.) more specifically defines this phenomenon as a sense of happiness and thankfulness in response to a fortunate happenstance or tangible gift.
Gratitude is both a state and a trait (Jans-Beken et al., 2020). Better explained, one can experience gratitude for someone or something at a certain moment in time, and someone experience gratitude more long-term as a positive character trait” (Positive Psychology).
In other words – and according to Help Guide – “gratitude involves showing appreciation for the things in life that are meaningful or valuable to you”.
So perhaps our above assumption was correct – gratitude is a positive response to a positive stimulus.
But there is a little more to it than that.
“Gratitude is something we are all familiar with. We have all received gifts from others. We have all received benefits and kindnesses. What is the feeling we have inside when we receive the gift from someone – it is gratefulness. It is the warm feeling of appreciation. We know that we have been the recipient of a benefit and we feel a tendency to want to give back because of the goodness we have received. That’s really what gratefulness is. It’s really just a form of thankfulness”.
Gratitude comes from a feeling of thankfulness, gratefulness and appreciation.
How can one practice gratitude?
But it was Jon Kabat-Zinn that said –
“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”
Just like a muscle, practicing gratitude takes conscious effort. And you can do this by practicing these 6 simple exercises –
What are the benefits of practising gratitude?
According to Positive Psychology, practising gratitude is important because it –
- strongly relates to overall wellbeing, including social wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, and psychological wellbeing; and
- has a domino effect. If a person experiences gratitude, they are more likely to recognise the help and then later reciprocate that help. People who are thanked are presumably more apt to extend help to others in the future.
- Relieve stress and pain – feeling grateful and recognising help from others creates a more relaxed body state and allows the subsequent benefits of lowered stress.
- Improvement in health over time – as gratefulness reduces stress, this, in turn, can decrease blood pressure and levels of inflammation. This can give way to better overall cardiovascular health.
- Alleviate depression – researcher Prathik Kini at Indiana University performed a study examining how practising gratitude can alter brain function in depressed individuals. Evidence was found that gratitude may induce structural changes in the brain. Such a result reflects how the mental practice of gratitude may even be able to change and re-wire the brain.
- Better sleep – increased gratitude supports higher quality sleep and fewer sleep disturbances. All because our bodies are more relaxed. Also, if you express gratitude right before going to bed, you fall asleep with a more positive outlook.
- Improved focus – if you begin to view the task in front of you in a more positive light, you spend less energy feeling stressed about it. You might even begin to view challenges as opportunities rather than hurdles.
- Higher self-esteem – viewing the world with a sense of gratitude can change the way you think about your own worth. Especially if you focus on acts by those around you. If your partner takes you out for dinner, they are not only spending money on you but are also spending time with you. This in turn makes you feel appreciated and loved.
If you need help with practising gratitude or are not quite sure how to go about doing so, get in touch with Frieda Levycky of Braving Boundaries who can help you see the forest for the trees and the light at the end of the tunnel. Or why not join Frieda and Vee at the “Reflect, Connect & Celebrate” Workshop in Cape Town on Saturday, 25 November 2023? The workshop is all about reflecting on and finding gratitude in 2023. It sounds like a perfect place to start to me! See details below.
For me, I will be starting a gratitude jar where my first little note says: “I’m so grateful I was able to write this article”.