This Christmas will be tinged with sadness for many of us. Science shows that, while it’s no fix-all, nurturing gratitude can help by shifting our attention to what’s positive
For some it’s instinct, others have to practice it, but giving thanks is good for our bodies, minds and our relationships.
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, who studied more than 1,000 people aged between eight and 80, found that those who consistently practised gratitude enjoyed a host of benefits.
Physically, these people had stronger immune systems, were less bothered by aches and pains and enjoyed better sleep. At the same time, psychological benefits included feeling more joy and pleasure, experiencing more optimism and being happier. On the social side, they were more helpful, generous and compassionate, and they even reported feeling less lonely and isolated.
Why is it so powerful? Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present; it diverts our attention from toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment and debilitating regret; and science shows that grateful people have a greater sense of self-worth. Research even suggests that grateful people are better positioned to recover from serious trauma, adversity and suffering.
Here are five suggestions to help nurture gratitude for yourself and others in the difficult months ahead.
The theory here is that no matter how difficult life can sometimes feel, there’s always something to be thankful for. Simply jot these things down – experts suggest daily is best – in a notebook, on your computer or by using a gratitude app. They can range from the biggies, like a promotion at work, a relationship in your life, to the seemingly small: a kiss from a loved one, the clean water the runs from your taps, or the way the morning light hit the autumn leaves through your window. There’s a heap of evidence to suggest that journaling in this way reduces stress, promotes calm feelings and helps you focus in on what really matters to you.
Image: Marco Paulo Prado
Practising gratitude has multiple benefits and so does walking, which boosts wellbeing, reducing stress, and helps with problem-solving to name just three. So, together they make for a powerful combination. Take 20 minutes or whatever you can spare out of your day to walk somewhere that you enjoy, with an intention to be mindful. As you go, either write down or just think over: “What am I grateful for in my life?” Some people take their gratitude walks with a partner: taking turns to share as they go.
If it feels right for you, why not share examples of what you’re grateful for on social media? It could be a daily photograph of what makes your life worth living, a weekly reflection on what went right, or perhaps you could take time before 2021 rolls around to post what has kept you going during this tumultuous year. Sharing online in this way could encourage others to take up their own valuable gratitude habits – not to mention going some way to counteract the anxiety-provoking negativity that can too readily surface online today.
Image: Christin Hume
Nurturing gratitude doesn’t have to be a standalone project but something you aim to build into everyday life. Actively thanking the people who serve you in your community for example – shopkeepers, bus drivers, teachers or doctors – is a reminder of our interconnectedness, especially in an age of pandemic-induced social distancing. Mentally giving thanks before you go to sleep works for some people, or what about making mealtimes a time to practise gratitude?
Join forces with your family, flatmates or friends remotely if you live alone, to share what you’re grateful for before or after you eat. It’s easier said than done, but try to see the opportunity for growth in your mistakes, be grateful when you learn something new, and at times of difficulty, where possible, remind yourself of the people you love who helped you through.
Image: Stefan Vladimirov
Nurturing gratitude works because it helps to give us a positive perspective. Of course, as 2020 has underscored for so many, life is downright difficult sometimes and by no means every situation has a silver lining. But reminding ourselves that positive developments are constantly happening as well as negative ones, and that there are millions of people working in myriad ways to help and support others, we see that we have the power to change things for the better rather than succumbing to what experts call “learned helplessness”.
One way to help remind your loved ones of the positives in life, is to gift them a subscription to Positive News magazine this festive season. By sharing rigorous, solutions-focused journalism that explores what‘s working in the world, you’ll help them practise a positive mindset throughout 2021 and beyond. And with your support for our independent, inspiring journalism, we’d be very thankful too.
Image: Tim Mossholder
Main image: Joe Yates
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 27 October 2020.