What is Gratitude?
From a young age we are told to say thank you, but what does it actually mean to express gratitude and why is it good for us?
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude refers to the sense of thankfulness we feel in response to a positive personal experience or outcome. Feelings of gratitude can arise from the kind actions of another, the beauty of nature or an answered prayer.
As an externally focused emotion, gratitude involves recognising and acknowledging that something outside of ourselves has provided us with a positive experience, which in turn, encourages us to put our own positivity back out into the world.
Individuals with high levels of trait gratitude are more likely to recognise and acknowledge sources of goodness from outside of themselves.
Professor Robert Emmons is largely responsible for gratitude as a developing area of research. In his later work, he proposes that the rewarding properties of gratitude can be linked to three concepts:
Joy - the way we feel upon noticing and recognising positive encounters and experiences.
Grace - receiving and acknowledging positive encounters gracefully - neither giving nor gratitude should be expected or forced.
Love - the joyful and graceful nature of gratitude makes us more likely to 'give back' in a way that is more aligned with acts of thanksgiving and love vs. dutiful reciprocation.
How can gratitude improve our lives?
Having a grateful response to life circumstances is thought to be an adaptive psychological strategy that promotes feelings of wellbeing.
Research has shown that higher levels of gratitude are related to:
Higher levels of emotional, psychological and subjective wellbeing
Stronger social relationships and feelings of connectedness with others
Higher levels of achievement and goal-orientated behaviour
Higher levels of generosity, reciprocity and forgiveness
Increased resilience to trauma, stress and depression
Improved blood pressure, kidney function and cholesterol balance
The increased performance of healthy behaviours (more exercise, better sleep, healthier diet and decreased substance use)
You can read a more about the link between gratitude and sleep here.
Incorporating gratitude into our daily lives
As individuals, we are already equipped with the tools needed to begin recognising, acknowledging and giving back the good.
When making a conscious effort to cultivate gratitude, it is important to keep our focus on the external - gratitude should not become 'about us' or a tagged onto the end of our daily to-do list as part of a forced chore.
Instead, cultivating gratitude involves training ourselves to be perceptive to the positive outcomes we experience in our daily lives and taking a moment to recognise, acknowledge and reflect upon them.
You can read more about cultivating gratitude and current gratitude interventions here.
Gratitude can easily be incorporated into our everyday lives and involves recognising, acknowledging and recollecting the good whenever it is there.
Not only does cultivating a sense of gratitude help us to develop closer relationships with others, but it also benefits our own physical and mental wellbeing in a variety of ways.
Emmons (2017). Three surprising ways that gratitude works.
Emmons (2014). Gratitude Works, the science and practice of saying thanks.
Emmons and McCullough (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.