What are you grateful for today? Chances are, you haven’t put much thought into it. Or if you have, your mind probably goes straight to the big things: your job, your family or your hobbies. But what about the smaller, everyday moments?
Over the last couple of years, the concept of ‘practising gratitude’ – which simply means taking time to reflect upon and notice the things you’re grateful for – has grown in popularity.
Practising gratitude is not just about noticing the big moments listed above (although they can definitely be part of it), but taking the time to reflect on the smaller moments, such as a particularly tasty lunch or the first sip of a gin and tonic.
And practising gratitude doesn’t just have the power to make you feel more positive – studies have proven that people who regularly practise gratitude have better physical and mental health, sleep better and have higher levels of self-esteem.
Interested in learning more? We asked Rosemary Ikpeme, creator and founder of the MYnd Map MY Journal, a 12-week mindfulness, gratitude and goal setting journal, to tell us more about the benefits of practising gratitude.
What does gratitude mean to you?
“For me, gratitude is a mindfulness practice – it’s a practice of being in the moment which allows you to feel a bit more in control. When we feel lost or stressed and we feel out of control with what’s happening in our lives or around us, I think gratitude can anchor us and give us that sense of grounding that we need.
“In my mid-20s I had a quarter-life crisis. My career wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, my family relationships were not working, my friendships were not quite working and I ended up breaking up with my long term boyfriend. So everything outside of me seemed to be falling apart. I used to wake up really frustrated, anxious and unhappy, almost in tears every morning.
“So I decided to stop pointing fingers and find out what was going on. I found this retreat in Brighton and the title of the retreat was ‘How to wake up smiling,’ so I went to it – it was a Buddhist retreat. And the whole premise of what the monk was saying was actually based in gratitude. He explained how, as children, we wake up excited looking forward to the day, looking for the opportunities and the gifts and joys in life. But as we grow older life happens – we have bills to pay, we have doctor appointments, we have work – and we forget that excitement, we forget those gifts. And he used this analogy: think of your life as being given a basket each morning, and your task is to collect all the precious gifts during the day. So at the end of the day, you have this basket full of precious gifts.
“And that’s gratitude, essentially – the roads that we walk on were paved by someone else, the houses that we live in were built by someone else, the chairs that we’re sitting on, someone came up with that idea and built that chair. These are all gifts that we take for granted, and just being able to reflect on that makes you feel grateful.
“Gratitude can also help you to feel less alone. When you feel out of control, you feel alone – like life isn’t working for you, it’s working against you. But when you practice gratitude, and you see all these amazing things that have been done for you to benefit from, it feels like life is working for you. You feel valued, you feel loved. And that is the emotion I think that gratitude brings to people. It makes you feel valued. It makes you feel part of a bigger picture as opposed to isolated, stressed, and anxious. And it just gives you a different perspective in life.”
How can practising gratitude help our mental health?
“There’s been numerous pieces of research done on gratitude for many years, and one conclusive thing that the research has shown is that gratitude helps with our mental health; one study found that those who engaged in gratitude journaling for five minutes a day saw their long-term happiness rise by 10%.
“Essentially, gratitude primes your mind. We have these minds which are thousands of years old that are primed for survival – so they focus on the negative thoughts and negative things people have said to you. And subconsciously we might not even be aware of these negative emotions. But by practising gratitude, we’re overriding those negative words and feelings and filling our mind with the positive, and that can help us to feel less depressed and anxious and open our minds to other positive behaviours.”
What’s the best way to fit gratitude into our daily routine?
“Gratitude is so simple, but it’s not always easy, because it takes action. So you will have to stick to it – you might not feel grateful the first day you start practising gratitude, because it takes time. And it takes time for it to become a habit as well.
“First of all, make a commitment to yourself. And once you’ve set that intention, write it down and schedule it. So schedule the time you want to practise gratitude – it could be first thing in the morning, or last thing before you go to bed. But make sure it’s daily – with the MY Journal we have a section everyday where you get to write your gratitude. And start with three to five gratitudes. It can be as broad or as specific as you want. The more specific your gratitudes are, the more they trigger those grateful emotions, but to start with it can be difficult to come up with things so let them be as broad as you want, so ‘I’m grateful that I have a home,’ for example. Gratitude is all about emotion – it’s about honing into an emotion and holding on to it.
“The other thing I would say is it takes 66 days on average for an action to become a habit, so it will take time and you might find it difficult initially to think about things that you’re grateful for or even feel the gratitude in the first place. But once it becomes a habit, it becomes second nature – you don’t even have to think about it – so stick at it.
“Also, don’t expect fast results – I think that’s what we all assume, that we’re going to say gratitude in the morning and everything’s going to be perfect. It does require commitment in the long term. But the good thing about that is once you’re able to commit to something like this, it becomes easier to commit to other positive habits in your life.”
To find out more about gratitude, and purchase your own MY Journal (£29.99), check out the Mynd Map website.