Gratitude: It Takes Practice

Words by Nikee Gamage
Art by Emily McIntosh

Gratitude derives from the Latin word gratia, meaning grace and graciousness and refers to a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something that has helped us in some way.

The 21st century is fast-paced, technology improves at an accelerated rate, pop culture changes every hour, and new ideas are constantly tried and tested. Such a whirlwind society is a far cry from the simple, modest lifestyles of previous eras to such a degree that many of us have forgotten the importance of gratitude.

Gratitude allows us to acknowledge the goodness in our lives, which compels us to recognise that such goodness stems from someone or something other than ourselves. Naturally, one of the main advantages of gratitude is it strengthens social bonds. We also become more humble and less self-involved in the process. Communicating gratitude also credits the generosity of the giver and increases feelings of security and connectedness. Feelings of security and connectedness encourage us to recognise the good in others. Emotion, a psychology journal, conducted a 2014 study concluding that gratitude can form new relationships, whether it is by thanking a stranger for holding the door open or sending a thank-you note to a colleague for their help on a project. Overall, gratitude is a key ingredient in creating and maintaining healthy relationships, whether familial, romantic, platonic or business.

Furthermore, there is scientific evidence that gratitude has substantial mental health benefits because it leads to decreased levels of anxiety, depression and stress. This is because gratitude, akin to positive feelings like happiness and joy, detracts focus from toxic sentiments like anger, resentment and envy. As a result, the mere thought of how grateful we are to others or how blessed our lives are is likely to eclipse any negative feelings or emotions felt. Research demonstrates that gratitude in times of distress is even more powerful, assisting in overcoming trauma and boosting resilience. For example, the Behaviour Research and Therapy journal published a 2006 study deducing that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Additionally, expressing appreciation has physical effects too, such as on our body, sleep patterns and brain. The Personality and Individual Differences journal found that grateful people suffer from fewer pains and aches and feel a general sense of healthiness, while the Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being journal concluded in their 2011 study that grateful people slept better. Not only that, grateful people tend to have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure and most significantly, distinct brain activity. Communicating gratitude activates the ventral and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, which relates to feelings of reward and releases hormones like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin that increase our happiness and well-being.

Practising gratitude strengthens these neural pathways and gradually rewires the brain to focus on the positives in life, rather than the negative.

Moreover, gratitude has a moral impact that holistically improves us as people. These are behaviours that benefit society through promoting activities like sharing, donating and volunteering, which simultaneously deters socially disruptive behaviours. A 2012 study conducted by the University of Kentucky deduced that grateful people experience more sensitivity and empathy towards others. They also had a decreased desire to seek revenge, were less likely to retaliate against others and acted kindly even if the other person did not reciprocate. 

So now you know its advantages, here are some effective ways to incorporate gratitude into your daily life! Writing a thank-you note is an easy way to express appreciation, it will nurture your relationship with the other person and release your feel-good hormones. Keep a journal for detailed descriptions of your gratitude. Or you can always be thankful mentally because it still has the same profound, long-lasting effects on the brain. For those who are religious, praying is not only an escape from our materialistic society but a way to cultivate gratitude. If you are not religious, meditation is a great alternative because it focuses you on the present, enabling an appreciation for the simple things. 

We have helped you get your gratitude journey started, look to your left and try answering some easy yet meaningful questions. This could be the start of a long and beautiful relationship. 

Let us help you make being ‘grateful’ and ‘blessed’ more than something you see on some girl’s Instagram. You know the one…

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