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Count your blessings every day…

This is something I grew up hearing every day and something that (ironically) I am very grateful for.  From a young age, it was instilled in me to always count my blessings; no matter how bad my day had been, no matter how down I might be feeling and no matter what the external circumstances may have been.  I was taught that there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for.

Equally, it is just as important for us to acknowledge when we don’t feel ok and to be accepting of ALL of our emotions.  I’m not saying we should be grateful all the time and walk around with a false sense of positivity because let’s be honest, it’s not possible (or healthy) to pretend that everything is absolutely ok all the time when it’s not. 

However, there are huge benefits to practising gratitude emotionally, mentally and physically.  The first thing to note is that if we are experiencing gratitude, we cannot feel sad or angry for example.  The act of being grateful alters our state.  By cultivating gratitude regularly, it in turn improves many aspects of lives including:

  • Well-being
  • Optimism
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-control
  • Relationships
  • Physical and mental healt
  • Happiness

For hundreds of years, various cultures have taught the positive effects of gratitude and now science also backs this up.  In a study by McCraty and colleagues (1998), 45 adults were taught to “cultivate appreciation and other positive emotions”[1]. The results of this study showed that there was a mean 23% reduction in the stress hormone cortisol after the intervention period.

So how do you practice gratitude?  The best thing about this is that there are so many ways.  In social situations, you might say a well thought out ‘thank you’ rather than a clipped ‘thanks’.  For example, accepting a compliment in a genuinely grateful way.  There might be a person in your life who feel a great sense of gratitude towards so maybe write them a letter expressing that to them.  If you are late for a meeting, instead of saying ‘sorry I’m late’, say ‘thank you for waiting for me’.

To practice gratitude for yourself you could write a gratitude journal or take some time in the evening before you sleep to reflect on your day.  You can also practice gratitude in the morning before you get up.  Being grateful in the morning sets us up to start looking for the positive in our days, rather than the negative.  It calms us and also excites the reward centre in the brain making us feel good. 

There is a saying that goes ‘the best things in life are free’ and the best thing about gratitude and the amazing benefits it has is that it costs absolutely nothing to practice.  For me, I like to think of practising gratitude as getting my daily dose of Vitamin G which is essential for my overall health and well-being.  Next time you have a free moment, try it. You might just be surprised by the benefits it brings you.

[1] McCraty, R., Barrios-Choplin, B., Rozman, D. , Atkinson, M. & Watkins, A. (1998). The impact of a new emotional self-management program on stress, emotions, heart rate variability, DHEA and cortisol. Integrative Physiological & Behavioural Science, 32, 151-70