When you're stretched for time and need a quick fix to relieve stress, practising gratitude might just be the answer. It doesn't entail the same time commitment as meditation or the repetitive practice of mindfulness and it provides fast results.
The habit of gratitude and being thankful for what we have is not a new concept. Historically gratitude has been the primary focus for many world religions. However, psychologists and philosophers have only really started studying it within the last 2,000 years. It wasn't until much more recently that they started documenting the impact which being thankful can have on our overall health and wellbeing.
Last year, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported a study showing that an increase in gratitude for what we have can lead to better mood and sleeping patterns in particular, along with a whole host of other positive outcomes.
Just in terms of its efficacy in improving mental health, individuals who embrace a thankful attitude are proven to have increased happiness and much lower levels of stress and depressed mood; they also have greater resilience through significant life events.
This research was, of course, followed swiftly by social media and a big surge in the popularity of using words such as 'humbled' and 'blessed' to describe our emotional state. But how do we really turn this sentiment into action? How do we go about embracing the positives and adopting a thankful attitude?
Take five minutes a day to intentionally focus on the good
Reflect on the positives and shut out the negatives. No 'buts' or 'what ifs' - name two things you are happy for right now.
But also take time to remember the bad
If life was perfect and we never experienced hardship or difficulty, it would be easy to become complacent and far more difficult to experience gratitude. By reflecting momentarily on the bad or the upsetting, you remind yourself how strong you can be in times of adversity and how thankful you are to have overcome it.
Start a gratitude journal
Either in diary form or using an app, the premise is simple. Write a list of five things you have been thankful for during the past week. Try not to just go through the motions. Research tells us that elaborating on specific events rather than just writing a list of bullet points carries far more benefit.
Introduce a 'happy thought' into your bedtime routine
If you have a young family, a great way to include children in the practice of being thankful is a 'happy thought' before bed. As a family, take turns in telling each other one thing that has made you happy that day. This will not only end your day on a positive, but also provide a sense of calm and contentment as they drift off to sleep.
Use visual prompts
If all else fails, open your photo album. We rarely take pictures of situations that don't make us smile so look through pictures and reflect on your favourites. Ask yourself why those events made you happy.
Everyone has the ability to become more appreciative and the pay off can be large for such a small commitment. Embracing a grateful attitude really can boost mood and improve your overall sense of fulfillment. Start today; there is no time like the present.
Caroline is a mum, writer and mental health practitioner from Hampshire with a particular interest in health and wellbeing and all things parenting.