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Positive Education: Gratitude

Isaac Hensman —

As the days get colder and darker, we can lose sight of the small (and large) things we have to be grateful for. 

However, practising gratitude can have a massive impact on our wellbeing. This can be as simple as taking a few moments out of each day to reflect on what you are grateful for.

Dr Robert Emmons has studied the impact of gratitude on health, wellbeing and relationships, and the results are surprising. Those involved in his study kept a ‘gratitude journal’, where they recorded the moments they were grateful for on a daily basis. Over time, the participants in the study reported psychological benefits, such as feeling more alert, and experiencing more positive emotions such as happiness, pleasure and optimism. These benefits extend into the social realm, where participants reported they were more generous and forgiving, and experienced less loneliness. 

Perhaps most surprisingly, there were significant physical benefits. The participants had better immune systems, lower blood pressure, and slept longer.

Gratitude allows us to focus on the positive moments in our lives, and to acknowledge the role of other people in helping us. This is not the same thing as ignoring problems and difficult moments; it’s just a shift in focus. If you have been stuck in a negative mindset, practising gratitude can help snap you out of it. Gratitude is incompatible with more negative emotional states, like jealousy, resentment and regret. Focusing on what you’re grateful for can cancel out those other emotions.

Making a regular time each day, or each week, to take stock of what you are grateful for, can make a difference. You might prefer to write these down in a journal, or simply make a mental note. Finding time to thank the people you are grateful to can have an even more profound impact. 

Whatever strategy you use, it’s clear that gratitude costs us very little, but has significant benefits.