Gratitude: How saying 'thank you' can change your life

Gayatri Vinayak
·6-min read
Close up of handwritten text "I am grateful for..." in foreground with notebook, pen,  cup of tea, flowers and oil burner in soft focus (deliberate angle)
Close up of handwritten text "I am grateful for..." in foreground with notebook, pen, cup of tea, flowers and oil burner in soft focus (deliberate angle)

When was the last time you were really grateful about something – a person, a situation or even yourself? So many of us go on about our daily lives without stopping to thank all those who have touched our lives in different ways. This is more so today with the pandemic that has brought with it stress, anxiety and an increase in mental health problems.

The early days of COVID-19 saw the world come together, in gratitude of those who worked tirelessly at the frontlines to protect us from the virus. However, with months dragging on, and life proceeding in the new normal, it often becomes difficult to be grateful for anything around us. Hence, a daily dose of Vitamin G is what we need to survive the challenges in the world around us.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude is the feeling of being thankful – of recognising a positive outcome, and realising that there is an external reason behind it. Gratitude is also about understanding and accepting that despite all that is happening, there are many things that we need to be happy about.

Across his years of research, Robert Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude, has discovered that those who practise gratitude consistently see a host of benefits, ranging from a stronger immune system, fewer body pains and aches, lower blood pressure, better sleep, higher positive emotions, more pleasure and joy. Socially, they also tend to be more outgoing, more forgiving and less lonely and isolated.

A 2014 study has revealed that gratitude enhances an athlete’s self - esteem and affective trust in the coach. Recent studies have also shown that complementing psychological counselling with activities such as practising gratitude helps yield high results, while not being taxing. Hence, practising gratitude is the most time-efficient and inexpensive method of taking care of your mental health and that of others around you.

Here are some ways in which you can practise gratitude:

Gratitude journal

With technology, most of us have forgotten the simple art of writing things down. A gratitude journal helps you relieve stress, as it brings on feelings of contentment and satisfaction. It also enables you to deal better with everything that life throws at you. By writing down positive things about people, you also start showing a much more optimistic attitude towards life and the people around you. The days you feel sad, you can pick up your journal and go through all that you have to be grateful about.

Here are some tips to follow while writing your thoughts:

  • Write in your gratitude journal every night – this gives you a reason to actively search for things and people to be grateful about every day.

  • Aim to write at least 10 things each day, you can increase as you progress.

  • You do not need to search for profound or deep things to be grateful for – something as simple as the lunch you had, or someone’s smile could be things you are grateful for.

  • It may seem like a task at first, but as you take time out of your schedule every day to write down ten things that you are grateful of, the practise would seem less like a chore, and more therapeutic.

Gratitude letters

Studies have shown that people who count their blessings are generally happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Make it a practice to write one letter each month - you can write this to any person who has made an impact on your life. You can even write a gratitude letter to your self – love and self-care is very important as it gives you an opportunity to appreciate those around you.

UC Berkley conducted a study involving nearly 300 adults, mostly college students, who reported clinically low levels of mental health and were seeking counselling for issues related to anxiety and depression. One of the groups were assigned to write a letter of gratitude to another person, each week for three weeks. The study found that those who wrote gratitude letters reported better mental health at the end of their exercise than those who wrote about negative experiences or only received counselling.


Be grateful to nature

Take a walk outdoors, whenever you can. Leave all digital devices behind - make sure you are in the moment. Pause, look around you and notice all the beautiful things around you - the sunshine, trees, the sky, clouds and people. You can also take up activities that help you connect with nature – gardening, composting, cleaning up the trash around you or at a public place such as a beach and park, are great ways to show your gratitude to nature.

Give thanks to your food

Every culture has a way of saying thanks to the food that we eat. The Japanese traditionally start their meal by saying itadakimasu - or I humbly receive. This is a way of appreciating and saying thank you to the food. While the Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, in India, many of our festivals start with offering food to God, as a way of appreciating the food we eat as a gift.

In order to practise gratitude to the food you eat, focus on the act of eating. Be mindful of what you are eating and avoid multitasking, watching TV or browsing the internet while having your food. Notice the taste, the colours, the variety and all the ingredients that make up your food. It also helps to say a little prayer of thanks to your food before you start eating.

Show gratitude to the plants, food sources and the people who have helped nourish and feed you. Thank the farmers or the fishermen who toil every day, thank the people who have helped transport the food and those who have kept it safe for you to consume. Also, thank the person who has cooked the food - whether it is you, or anyone else.

Gratitude jar

This a great practise for children, and for adults as well. Create a gratitude jar, decorate it any way you want to - you can involve children in this. Make it a daily practice to write down something you feel grateful about in a piece of paper and drop it in the jar. Every time you feel upset or anxious, look at all the notes in your gratitude jar and remind yourself that despite all that may be going on currently, there is a lot out there to be thankful about.

Say thank you

We have all been taught the importance of saying thank you - but did you know that it goes beyond just good manners. Studies have found that the words ‘thank you’ are beneficial for the self.

Rather than just making them feel good, thanking people for the help they provide makes them feel more socially valued and appreciated, thus, motivating them to help more. If someone gifts you something, rather than just complimenting the gift, you can phrase your thanks in a way that it highlights their qualities and thoughtfulness.

You should also say thank you to your self and your body for supporting you, giving you the strength and ability to cope with situations. You have come so far - give yourself a pat on the back, you deserve that!

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