Why practising gratitude can bring joy and optimism into your life

Feeling gratitude and expressing your appreciation is one of the simplest ways to bring greater joy, love and optimism into your life, says Annika Rose

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Words of thanks are among the most well-used and recognisable in any dialect. Whether it’s to show appreciation for assistance, a kind deed, a gift or a great time, saying ‘thank you’ is introduced into our vocabulary as soon as we can talk, and taught as good manners when we’re growing up.

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Yet how often do we remember to use the power of gratitude to cultivate better relationships and nurture our sense of wellbeing? Perhaps it’s time for a mindful reminder…

How to show gratitude to others

Despite uttering the words ‘thank you’ multiple times a day, this catchphrase for appreciation doesn’t need to be reduced to an automatic response. There’s nothing quite like giving or receiving some heartfelt gratitude, after all.

According to Dr Robert A Emmons, author of The Little Book of Gratitude and the world’s leading scientific expert on the topic, a genuine expression of gratitude has three parts.

First, showing that you recognise a form of goodness exists; second, acknowledging it (usually, sharing it with another person); and finally, appreciating its presence in your life.

By simply paying attention, it’s possible to start seeing the good around you and feeling joy and contentment as you notice just how much of it there is.

Even on the most difficult of days, there’s always something to be grateful for: your health, a good friend, birdsong, a nice cup of tea…

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How practising gratitude can bring us closer together

The creation of a shared experience gives gratitude an important role to play in enhancing the quality of our relationships. It can deepen connections and strengthen ties between people. Gratitude can show up multiple times a day in how we interact with those around us.

“It’s the decisions, movements and actions we take that are in response to knowing how lucky or blessed we are that make it much more than a word; it’s a way of being,” says London-based love and relationship coach Jessica Elizabeth Opert.

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Take a moment right now to think of a time when someone did something especially kind for you. A small or a grand gesture; a friend or a stranger. Something that made your day, your week, or even your life a whole lot better. Recall what they did for you and how the whole experience unfolded.

As you relive that moment, notice how and where a sweet sense of gratitude begins to transpire for you, and how you now feel towards that person.

Pay it forward

Inspiring gratitude in others teaches us to be more thankful to ourselves. For inspirational tweets and ideas, follow the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation at @RAKFoundation or take a look at our list of 21 random acts of kindness to brighten someone’s day. Showing your gratitude will mean more to a friend than you might think.

Giving flowers as a random act of kindness

Why gratitude enhances wellbeing

Happily, we are afforded many opportunities every single day to give and receive gratitude. There are a multitude of moments to proactively notice and appreciate the good things in your life, share them with others or soak up a genuine thank you.

It’s possible to regularly experience and express an abundance of thankfulness for all you have. Herein lies the capacity to transform the relationships in your life for the better.

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Expressing gratitude comes with many measurable benefits. According to gratitude and happiness research, gratitude is a key predictor of happiness, and grateful people tend to be happier, experiencing more positive emotions than their counterparts and more satisfaction with their lives as a whole.

They show increased levels of hope, forgiveness and empathy and are less likely to be depressed, stressed or show envy.

People who practise gratitude are more likely to have higher self-esteem and emotional resilience, placing them in a healthier psychological space. Grateful people also enjoy better physical health, experiencing fewer health issues, being more proactive about their health and even catching a better night’s sleep.

Considering the simplicity of saying thanks, there’s compelling evidence that cultivating an attitude of gratitude will not only have a positive impact on you, your health and happiness, but these advantages will flow on to benefit your connections too. When you make a commitment to becoming more grateful, everybody wins.

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How does gratitude help our relationships?

It’s no surprise then that gratitude has a significant role to play in the success of your relationships. By bringing your attention to how you relate to the people around you, it’s possible to form deeper and far more meaningful connections with them.

“Gratitude allows us to feel noticed, appreciated and respected, and this enhances the connection between people,” notes counselling psychotherapist and relationship authority Dr Karen Phillip.

With that said, it’s easy to fall into the complacency trap of taking the goodwill of others – friends, family, kids, colleagues and even strangers – for granted. Luckily, this can be remedied by applying a little self awareness and giving gratitude when gratitude is due.

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Recognising the role others play in contributing to your happiness (and vice versa) can help to strengthen and enhance your relationships. A moment spent taking stock will remind you why certain people belong in your life and what you appreciate about them the most.

So look out for the small, thoughtful acts other people do for you, such as treating you to lunch, helping you to finish your report or being by your side through a tough time. Then seize the opportunity to let them know how much their thoughtful gestures mean.

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A moment spent acknowledging the goodwill of others brings you closer together and increases the chance of it coming your way again.

The fact that gratitude is all about giving and receiving ensures the kindness keeps going by returning it, or paying it forward. Performing an act of kindness for someone can be lots of fun too (especially when it’s a surprise!), and you can be as creative and spontaneous as you like.

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How to use gratitude when times are tough

Gratitude can also help you to form new relationships. Whether you’ve moved city or country, you’re new to a team or organisation, it’s important to establish connections. Wellbeing relies upon positive relationships and in their absence loneliness and social isolation can quickly take a toll.

The simple act of showing gratitude can remove the barrier between strangers, making it easier to form new friendships and connections. Whether it’s with a handwritten note or a few words of thanks, a display of appreciation will help others to feel acknowledged and, therefore, more likely to engage and connect with you.

Practising gratitude presents an opportunity to feel happier, less stressed, gain greater clarity and a sense of comfort when needed most.
Annika Rose

There’s also a place for gratitude in overcoming difficulties. Struggles arise in relationships as a result of neglect, mistrust, resentment, anger or disappointment.

During these difficult times, it can be challenging to see anything good or remember these moments ever existed. Jessica Elizabeth regularly turns to gratitude exercises when coaching singles and couples through trying times.

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“I ask my clients to list 50 items they are grateful for,” she says, “then line-by-line, write about their role in making it possible, or think of a new way they can show gratitude for it.”

This gratitude task helps people to focus on the good, and boosts their self-esteem when they realise they are an active agent in creating it.

Every relationship in your life has something valuable to teach you, even the most trying ones. When you’re feeling challenged, remember that you have the ability to choose how to respond in any given moment. When you’re ready to do so, turning to appreciation can help you to take a different perspective and move your thoughts to a more positive place.

Celebrate the good times

Airing your grievances with someone you trust can be cathartic, but before you dive in, share the positive experiences that matter to you so you can celebrate together. We often find that it’s easier to talk and share with a cup of coffee in hand and a slice of something sweet on your plate – try our cinnamon raisin plait and arrange a get together.

Vegan cinnamon raisin plait recipe from Bo's Kitchen

Practising gratitude presents an opportunity to feel happier, less stressed, gain greater clarity and a sense of comfort when needed most. It helps you to acknowledge who and what you have in your life, and take action to ensure these blessings continue.

And, as challenges arise, appreciation goes a long way towards helping you to navigate them, doing so with more acceptance, grace and compassion towards yourself, and others too.

Hanging out with female friends

3 gratitude exercises to build better connections

1

Start a gratitude jar

Whenever someone does a kind act for you, jot it down. Keep the notes in a secret gratitude jar. When the jar is full, present it to the person, letting them know how much they’re appreciated. Pick out some key moments to read aloud. They will feel incredibly appreciated and you’ll both be happier in the knowledge that their efforts make a positive difference.

2

Tracking gratitude

Set up a physical or digital gratitude tracker with easy shared access, such as a journal, a shared document or noticeboard. Form a weekly ritual of coming together for 15 to 20 minutes to list as many things as possible you have to appreciate, and sharing why each one is important.

3

Say it with a squeeze

Make an effort to show how much the kindness, support and generosity you receive means by following a thank you with a big hug! Hugging helps you to immediately feel blissed out and less stressed as hugs trigger the release of a ‘cuddle chemical’ called oxytocin into the bloodstream. An increase in this hormone supports your bond, helping you both to naturally feel closer, more trusting and all warm and fuzzy too!

Photos by Fernanda Prado, Gabrielle Henderson, Jonathan Chng, Lauren Richmond, rawpixel and Voenica Carswell on Unsplash

This article was orginally published in In The Moment Magazine, issue 2. Discover our latest subscription offer, or buy back issues online.

In The Moment issue 2