For many, this coming winter is tinged with sadness or anxiety. Science shows that, while it’s no fix-all, nurturing gratitude can help by shifting our attention to what’s positive
For some it’s instinct, for others a habit, but giving thanks is good for our bodies, minds and our relationships.
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, who studied more than 1,000 people aged between eight and 80, found that those who consistently practised gratitude enjoyed a host of benefits.
Physically, these people had stronger immune systems, were less bothered by aches and pains and enjoyed better sleep. At the same time, psychological benefits included feeling more joy and pleasure, experiencing more optimism and being happier. On the social side, they were more helpful, generous and compassionate, and they even reported feeling less lonely and isolated.
Why is it so powerful? Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present; it diverts our attention from toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment and debilitating regret; and science shows that grateful people have a greater sense of self-worth. Research even suggests that grateful people are better positioned to recover from serious trauma, adversity and suffering.
If the prospect of the colder, darker (in the UK at least) months ahead feels particularly daunting this year, here are five suggestions to help nurture gratitude for yourself and others this winter.
1) Keep a gratitude diary
The theory here is that no matter how difficult life can sometimes feel, there’s always something to be thankful for. Simply jot these things down – experts suggest daily is best – in a notebook, on your computer or by using a gratitude app. They can range from the biggies, like a promotion at work, a relationship in your life, to the seemingly small: a kiss from a loved one, the clean water the runs from your taps, or the way the morning light hit the autumn leaves through your window. There’s a heap of evidence to suggest that journaling in this way reduces stress, promotes calm feelings and helps you focus in on what really matters to you.
2) Take a gratitude walk
Practising gratitude has multiple benefits and so does walking, which boosts wellbeing, reducing stress, and helps with problem-solving to name just three. So, together they make for a powerful combination. Take 20 minutes or whatever you can spare out of your day to walk somewhere that you enjoy, with an intention to be mindful. As you go, either write down or just think over: “What am I grateful for in my life?” Some people take their gratitude walks with a partner: taking turns to share as they go. 3) Give thanks online
If it feels right for you, why not share examples of what you’re grateful for on social media? It could be a daily photograph of what makes your life worth living, a weekly reflection on what went right, or perhaps you could take time before 2021 rolls around to post what has kept you going during this tumultuous year. Sharing online in this way could encourage others to take up their own valuable gratitude habits – not to mention going some way to counteract the anxiety-provoking negativity that can too readily surface online today. 4) Practise everyday gratitude
Nurturing gratitude doesn’t have to be a standalone project but something you aim to build into everyday life. Actively thanking the people who serve you in your community for example – shopkeepers, bus drivers, teachers or doctors – is a reminder of our interconnectedness, especially in an age of pandemic-induced social distancing. Mentally giving thanks before you go to sleep works for some people, or what about making mealtimes a time to practise gratitude?
Join forces with your family, flatmates or friends remotely if you live alone, to share what you’re grateful for before or after you eat. It’s easier said than done, but try to see the opportunity for growth in your mistakes, be grateful when you learn something new, and at times of difficulty, where possible, remind yourself of the people you love who helped you through.
5) Focus on the positive
Nurturing gratitude works because it helps to give us a positive perspective. Of course, as 2020 has underscored for so many, life is downright difficult sometimes and by no means every situation has a silver lining. But reminding ourselves that positive developments are constantly happening as well as negative ones, and that there are millions of people working in myriad ways to help and support others, we see that we have the power to change things for the better rather than succumbing to what experts call “learned helplessness”.
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