Today, I’m feeling grateful for my supportive family, the excitement and opportunities that come with a new job and the comfort of a cup of tea. But during the pandemic, feeling gratitude wasn’t always easy and for many of us, it was an extremely difficult year, evoking feelings of disappointment, anger and loss.

Loss can come in a wide range of forms, including the death of a loved one, loss of health, loss of a job, sense of purpose or daily structure and loss of connections with family, friends and community. It’s personal and may be hard to identify and articulate at times and leaves us feeling a variety of uncomfortable emotions.

Despite this however, 2020 provided many people with a unique opportunity to revaluate things and to engage in hobbies or activities that over time had faded out of their lives. Many people also tried out new and alien things and developed new interests and skills. Now, it might be worth reflecting on some of the good things that have come out of all this upheaval and unpleasantness.

Research shows that practicing gratitude can have many positive implications in a person’s life. But what does it mean or look like to practice gratitude? Saying ‘thanks’ when someone holds the door open or brings you a cup of tea is a form of expressing gratitude, but by going a little further we can experience a wide range of benefits. Here are some of the ways that practicing gratitude have been shown to help:

  • It can improve your physical health. People who exhibit gratitude report fewer aches and pains, a general feeling of health, do more regular exercise and attend more frequent health check-ups than those that don’t.
  • It can improve your psychological health. Grateful people enjoy higher levels of wellbeing and happiness and are less likely to suffer from  symptoms of depression.
  • Those who show their gratitude are likely to have enhanced empathy, it can also help reduce resentments and aggression.
  • Practicing gratitude can help improve your sleep, sleeping deeper and for longer.
  • Expressing gratitude can open the door to new relationships. Showing appreciation for an act of kindness or support from a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship.
  • Gratitude can increase mental strength. Research has shown that by recognising all you have to be thankful for, even during very difficult times, you’re more likely to foster resilience.

With all the benefits you might be asking yourself, ‘how do I get onboard this gratitude train?’ Well, it’s pretty simple really. How about starting a gratitude journal? You might treat yourself to a nice new notebook, or simply incorporate it into your current diary and set aside a few minutes each day to reflect on what went well and what you feel thankful for. Write it down and try to be as specific as possible. The more detailed you can be, the more beneficial the process will be. This approach takes time but you will gradually notice your perspective changing, your focus adjusting and eventually you’ll be on the lookout for things to be grateful for.

If that seems a bit too formal for you, why not find an old Marmite jar (other condiments are available!) wash it out and label it – ‘The Jar of Gratitude’. Each time you feel grateful about something or someone, write it down and pop it into the jar –‘Now that’s something for the jar of gratitude!’ you exclaim. At the end of the week, month, year or perhaps just when you’re having a bad day or are in a foul mood, you could head to the jar and remind yourself of some of the good things and acts of kindness you’ve experienced.

You could even post a card or write a note to say thank you to someone for their help or support. Focusing our gratitude on people rather than objects will enhance the benefits of expressing gratitude. Think how warm and fuzzy you feel when someone goes out of their way to acknowledge you, your work or efforts. Make time to think about others, how they have helped or shown support and let them know how it helped you. A hand written card or letter can also help you connect with your emotions.

Practicing gratitude and incorporating it into our daily lives can have far reaching benefits. Why not have a go at one or more of the suggestions above or get creative and think up your own way to reflect and express your gratitude. It’s easy and fun and the impact will be worth it. Good luck, and thank you for taking the time to read this post!

Looking for more advice to improve your sense of happiness? Why not browse our library of health and wellbeing resources.