For many people who have lived through difficult periods in their life, they later reflect that these periods ‘made them what they are today’, or ‘changed their life for the better’. What if the difficulties and upheaval we are facing at the moment turns out to be one of those times?
Is it possible to focus on how the circumstances you find yourself in might help you grow? Has the current upheaval helped you to reflect on the things that you value in life? Has it given you greater drive to focus on the things you love? Though it may seem unlikely at first (or even second) glance, could this period actually be the best thing that ever happened to you?
It is not always easy. You may be facing lots of uncertainties around work, money and health, or if you are on the front line you may be faced with situations that you never wanted to see. But reflecting on the positives – no matter how small – and being grateful for what each day has brought, can have multiple psychological and physical benefits.
Studies have shown that gratitude is associated with improved sleep (1,2), and reduced inflammatory markers (2,3). It may help to reduce post-traumatic stress (4) and depression (5). It could make you feel happier and emotionally stronger (5), may help build emotional resilience and increase your likelihood of choosing better coping strategies for dealing with stressful situations (6) – choosing gentle exercise rather than reaching for a cupcake, for example.
By helping to reduce the stress you feel, and potentially changing your behavioural patterns, giving thanks could also go some way towards supporting your immune system (7,8).
Its usefulness is being studied in patients with cancer, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, depression and more…
How to get started
If you’re wanting to introduce gratitude as a solo process then you could do worse than starting by writing down three things you are grateful for each day – there are five (or six) minute diaries available to buy to support you to do this.
Or you could write a list of people that you are grateful to, with the reasons why – and then write them a short note to say thank you.
If you prefer, there are guided gratitude meditations online that you can follow like this very simple one from Deepak Chopra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSM6hVkYhIs.
Give it a go for a week to start with, and see how it makes you feel.
Getting the kids involved
You could go round the table at night with each of you sharing one or more good thing that happened that day. Or if you prefer a game you could try an A to Z of thanks – thinking of one thing for each letter that you are grateful for (good luck with X…)
You could create a gratitude jar with each person contributing a note of what they are thankful for each day, and then you can review them all at the end of the week or month.
If you are more creative you could make a gratitude tree – and add paper leaves of gratitude to the branches.
You could suggest they write thank you letters – even if they haven’t received anything – to pass on their thanks for other people’s contributions to their lives
Or if they are younger maybe they can draw a picture – of something or someone that makes them happy, or of something that they love to do or think is fun.
For me, today, I am happy that my girls are getting along well, I am hugely grateful to Riverford and Field & Flower who both delivered lovely food to my door, and I am thankful to all those who are creating online content to help us stay active, develop our skills or keep us entertained – and of course to all those who are getting the country prepared for what is to come.
- Wood AM, et al., (2009) ‘Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions’, J Psychosom Res. 66(1):43-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19073292
- Mills, PJ et al. (2015) ‘The role of gratitude in spiritual well-being in asymptomatic heart failure patients’, Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 2(1), 5–17. https://doi.org/10.1037/scp0000050
- Moieni M et al., (2019) ‘Exploring the role of gratitude and support-giving on inflammatory outcomes’ 19(6):939-949. doi: 10.1037/emo0000472.
- Vieselmeyer J, Holguin J and Mezulis A (2017) ‘The role of resilience and gratitude in posttraumatic stress and growth following a campus shooting’ Psychol Trauma. 9(1):62-69. doi: 10.1037/tra0000149
- McCanlies, EC et al., (2018) ‘The effect of social support, gratitude, resilience and satisfaction with life on depressive symptoms among police officers following Hurricane Katrina’, International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 64(1) https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764017746197
- Sun P, et al., (2019) ‘Gratitude and problem behaviors in adolescents: The mediating roles of positive and negative coping styles’, Frontiers in Psychology, 10, pp.1547 https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01547
- Nakata, A. (2012) ‘Psychosocial job stress and immunity: a systematic review’ Methods Mol Biol, 934, pp. 39-75 doi: 10.1007/978-1-62703-071-7_3.
- Hine, JL et al. (2017) ‘Association between glycaemic control and common infections in people with Type 2 diabetes: a cohort study’ Diabet Med 34(4), pp. 551, 557 doi: 1111/dme.13205.