The Importance of Gratitude and Kindness
Gratitude is appearing more and more in the mainstream media and is being linked to both our physical and mental health, but what is it and why should we focus on the importance of gratitude and kindness?
There are two elements to gratitude. The first is very much about being thankful and showing appreciation for something, the second, and perhaps not so well known is the element of returning kindness.
When is it Best to Consider Gratitude?
Morning gratitude’s have become increasingly popular, and for very good reason. Showing gratitude isn’t just about being grateful for things, it is about setting your brain to look for and recognise the positive which in turn can help us gain a positive perspective on life. Most people complete them in the morning, it helps set them up for the day. It’s nice to lie in bed and think of a few things you are grateful for, rather than the bits of the day ahead you aren’t looking forward to so much.
Some people prefer to do them in the evening. Their preference is to end the day reflecting on all the things they are grateful for that have happened that day. An alternative option is to reflect on your successes and wins of the day in the evening as this helps identify all the positives of the day before sleep. Essentially, this is an element of gratitude just from a different perspective. It still helps you to look for and recognise the positive and have that positive perspective on the day and its challenges.
Both require practice, and a reminder to make them part of your daily routine.
Another option that has also increased in popularity is to keep a ‘Gratitude jar’. Use any old glass jar to fill with all the things you are grateful for so that you can open and read through on the days you need a big dose of positivity.
What are the Benefits?
There is increasing evidence that recognising the things that we are grateful for helps us live a happier life.
‘Doing good does you good’
Mental Health Foundation[i]
It helps us see the positive in every situation and lifts our mood. This, in turn, can help improve sleep quality and can improve our physical health as well as our mental health. The element of showing and returning kindness plays a significant part in this.
We know that doing something nice for others feels nice, but more and more research is now showing that it benefits us as much as it is beneficial to others as follows;-
- Physiological changes relating to happiness
- Sense of belonging
- Positive outlook and perspective
- People are likely to pay it forward (Pay it forward is an expression for describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the original benefactor [ii])
If you look at most blogs or posts about habits of successful or happy people, you will find that kindness, gratitude and compliments are all listed. Paying it forward and expressing gratitude and kindness is a simple way to increase the positivity in our own lives.
In a world where it is easy to see so much in the news about horror and unkindness, it is important that we look for the acts of kindness that also happen. Even in the most horrific of incidents, there will be stories of courage, kindness and love. They won’t always be as obvious, but they are there if you look for them. The brain will see what we ask it to look for. If we focus our minds on gratitude and kindness, we will see it. Looking for kind humanity will help the way we view the world.
Most people don’t complete random acts of kindness to improve their longer-term physical and mental health. That isn’t their motivation. Most people you ask will tell you that they do it because it is nice to make someone smile and there is that ‘in the moment’ feel good factor.
‘Use your smile to change the world; don’t let the world change your smile’ ~ unknown.
How can I Apply the ‘Attitude of Gratitude’?
Practice playing a mental opposites game. Every time you feel yourself saying something negative find a positive to follow it up with.
For example; It’s so cold today I’m really not loving winter
Follow it up with The sky is so blue, it’s not raining, and I can see the first signs of spring
It is very simple, but it means that you are ending on a positive. Instead of focusing on how cold it is you are focusing on the positives of some blue sky, a small ray of sunshine and some bulbs that show us spring is on its way. We can go through life finding all the negatives, or we can go through life looking for the positives.
Gratitude helps us identify the positives. It brings it to the front of our minds, literally, into our conscious behaviour. There is so much we take for granted that just being more conscious of the things that make us happy, can make a huge difference.
You can put energy towards negative thoughts, or you can redirect the energy into positive thinking. It takes some practice, but it is one of the easiest ways to change your mindset into something more positive.