The resilience coach's toolbox part 4

Posted on 21st August 2020

The power of gratitude

Wouldn’t it be great to have access to a simple tool to feel more optimistic?  Well, developing a regular gratitude practice will give you that tool.

The thing is, we’re naturally wired to notice negative events.  This tendency is meant to keep us safe, so it’s not entirely a bad thing.  The problem is that these days we have 24:7 access to so much negative news and negative social media posts.  This then feeds the fire of our natural negative bias.

The good news is that we have a choice in where to direct our attention.  We can choose to develop an attitude of gratitude as an antidote to all the negativity.  Sonja Lyubomirsky said that “gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutraliser of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savouring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-orientated.”

So, does science back up these claims?  The answer is that yes, there’s now been a wealth of neuroscience research showing how the practice of gratitude can positively impact our mental wellbeing: 

  • Gratitude can improve relationships by promoting pro-social behaviour and leading to greater emotional intelligence.  For example, if we regularly tune into things that we’re grateful for, we also become more generous to others.

  • Gratitude is a natural antidepressant.  Gratitude triggers the body to release Dopamine and Serotonin.  These neurotransmitters help us to feel more content and are known as ‘happy chemicals’.

  • Gratitude leads to greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex – an area associated with learning and decision making.

  • Gratitude literally rewires the brain – as we regularly practice gratitude, we make new neural pathways and can more easily access positive emotions.

Each of us has the power to change our mindset, so why not have a go today?  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Express gratitude – get into the habit of saying ‘thank you’ more often.  Expressing gratitude has a greater effect than just thinking it.

  • Gratitude letters – writing a gratitude letter is a powerful tool.  The effects of this practice are not instant, but they are lasting.  For example, you could write a letter to a parent, a past teacher or mentor, a colleague.

  • Gratitude journal – in a journal, write down 3 new things you’re grateful for each day.  By writing them down and then reading them back, you are taking in the good and telling your brain that good things happen.

  • Gratitude jar – write something down on a piece of paper each day and put it in a jar. E.g.  ‘I’m grateful for ____today, because________.  At the end of the year, you can read them all back to give yourself a lovely boost.

  • Reframe self-talk – look for the silver linings to be grateful for


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