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The Benefits and Science of Practicing Gratitude

How to practice gratitude to improve your wellbeing

“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.” Germany Kent

What is practicing gratitude?

Gratitude is something that anyone can practise, anywhere and at any time. It doesn’t cost anything and can be truly life-changing. 

Practicing gratitude is reflective and involves recognising and appreciating anything and everything fostering contentment and a deeper connection to life's inherent value. It is a practice of focusing on what you have not what you lack. 

What are the benefits of practicing gratitude?

Throughout recorded history religious leaders, scholars and philosophers have rhapsodised over the benefits of practising gratitude and how it can lead to a better life. 

Over the past two decades, this has been reinforced with a plethora of studies including research by Robert Emmons, happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky and many other scientists who have demonstrated how regularly practising gratitude can rewire our brains, much like meditation, to leave us happier, less stressed and more content. 

Further work by Emmons has shown that gratitude is actually good for our physical bodies too and can ‘strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce symptoms of illness and makes us less bothered by aches and pains.’ 

Some people are apprehensive when it comes to practising gratitude. To be completely honest in the early stages of developing the journal we found it pretty uncomfortable ourselves.

However, looking at the science we were determined to figure out a way that we could reduce any friction for getting started and work it into our routines.

These perceptions may be due to some of the online content around gratitude that can be guilty of making the practice seem a little ‘airy fairy’. 

It is important to remember the practice is unique to you and what you are grateful for, big or small, is up to you.

After a lot of testing, we settled on a workaround for this initial inner cringe by asking ourselves one question ‘Why am I smiling?’. This simple question triggers us to think about what is making us smile, as we do this we often find ourselves writing with a grin (physically smiling has many benefits itself). 

The science of a smile reveals a remarkable connection between our emotional state and physical resilience. Studies have shown that when we smile, even in challenging situations, our brains release endorphins and other "feel-good" neurotransmitters, which can reduce stress and improve our overall sense of well-being.

Sir Ernest Shackleton, the legendary Antarctic explorer exemplifies this. His unwavering cheerfulness in the face of extreme adversity, such as his ill-fated endurance expedition, was not just a personal trait but a strategic tool for maintaining his team's morale and motivation. His ability to smile, even amidst harsh conditions and uncertain outcomes, helped his crew endure the most challenging circumstances with resilience and unity. This resilient spirit aligns with the Royal Marines' motto of "Cheerfulness in the face of adversity," underscoring the importance of a positive outlook in overcoming obstacles and demonstrating that strength can indeed be found in a simple, sincere smile.

For more of the science behind your gratitude practice, read on here.

How to practice gratitude

You don’t need anything at all to start practising gratitude you can do this literally anytime, anywhere. You can do it in your head while sat in traffic instead of raging at the sea of bumpers ahead of you. For the best results though we recommend putting pen to paper, to start your new habit all you really need to do is regularly write down your thoughts.

This could be in a dedicated journal, on a slip of paper or in the notes section of your phone. 

Thoughts and feelings are fleeting and intangible whereas words are finite and definite. Taking the time out to write down why you are grateful helps you to identify how you really feel about anything and consolidate your thoughts into something concrete that you can then reflect upon.

When your brain is trained to do this in a positive way then it bleeds into other areas of your life creating a mini halo effect for a time after you’ve done.

It is because of this we recommend practising gratitude both in the morning and the evening so you can start the day the right way but then also frame your experiences throughout the day in a positive light at the end. 

How long should you practice gratitude for?

Practising gratitude doesn’t need to involve a long expansive list of all of everything in the world you are grateful for. We would encourage you to just write whatever comes to mind and not to put pressure on it. It can be done in just a few minutes a day. Consistency is where you will see the most value, doing this day and night will start to see your mindset shift. Setbacks will become opportunities for learning, challenges will turn to areas of growth. 

We recommend ‘habit stacking’ your gratitude practice with your journaling habit.

Use Stoic techniques of negative visualisation and silver linings to feel grateful in the moment. If you’re interested in practising some more stoic techniques a really good place to start is with William B. Irvine’s books, videos and podcasts. 

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Fancy a happiness booster? Try out the below experiment yourself. Soul Pancake conducted an experiment on the effects of gratitude on happiness.

Here the test subjects were asked to close their eyes and to think of someone important in their lives. They were then asked to write down as much as they could about why this person was so important. Afterwards, they were asked to call up the person in question and read them everything they wrote.

Watch the video here.

When people made the phone call and personally expressed their gratitude, happiness increased from a baseline of 4 to 19%.

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