A recent study at University of California at Berkeley showed the power that practicing the simple act of gratitude could help improve the mental health of patients seeking help from counselling services. The study looked at three groups of people one of which was asked to write gratitude letters every week, one of which was asked to write about their own negative experiences, and another that was asked to write nothing at all. The study found that “those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns.”[i]
The study had four major findings: 1) Gratitude can help you disconnect from negative or “toxic” emotions, 2) Practicing gratitude can help you, even if you don’t share it with other people, 3) The benefits of gratitude take time but increase over time, and 4) Gratitude can have a long-lasting effect on the brain.
So, how do you practice gratitude? There are many different ways to incorporate a gratitude practice into your life. Here are a few to get you started:
Keeping a gratitude journal is a simple and easy way to practice gratitude. You can go all out and buy a special blank journal and fancy pens if that’s what motivates you to complete the exercise, or just jot your gratitude down every day in your planner. Every evening, as part of your bedtime routine, write down five things you are grateful for about that day.
Some days they will be amazing things like doing well on your exams or making a new friend. Sometimes they might be simple joys, such as a walk in the sunshine, or a friend’s smile, or the taste of your fruit smoothie in the morning. On tough days, focus on the basics, like having food on the table and a roof over your head or getting out of bed when you really didn’t want to. It doesn’t matter what you find to express gratitude for, just find something to celebrate.[ii]
Expressing gratitude to others
This can be as simple as saying thank you to the bus driver as you leave the bus, or thanking someone for holding the door open for you. Or maybe you feel a great sense of gratitude to someone in your life for something they’ve done for you. Maybe your Academic Advisor helped you sort out your course selection when you were feeling overwhelmed, or a friend helped you study something you were struggling. In this case, sit down with a pen and paper and write them a letter to say thanks. Drop it in the post or deliver it in person, but the act of writing down your appreciation helps to reinforce the connections you’ve made and can help boost your happiness.[iii]
Meditate on gratitude
Meditation is another tool that you can use to practice self-care and you can combine with your gratitude practice. Apps like Stop, Breathe, and Think; Calm; or Headspace have guided meditations on gratitude which can help you practice gratitude and empathy by guiding you to think about things you are grateful for and also to send out empathy toward others.
Practice daily for best results
With so many ways to practice gratitude, you can mix it up if you just can’t think of an entry for your journal, try meditation instead. The important part of the practice is completing a form of gratitude on a daily basis.
Thanks for reading!