074 588 3808 rdpearman@gmail.com

How to Cultivate the Practice of Gratitude

Chad Prinsloo | Web Designer

Robbie Pearman  |  Counselling Psychologist

October 08 2021

The field of Psychology has for the longest time, been associated with minimizing problems causing unhappiness, reducing or treating symptoms of conditions. When this was achieved, treatment was considered to have been a success. However, very little attention has been paid to the purposeful increase of happiness and well-being, as its prime focus. The reasons for this could be many. One idea is because much of Psychology and Psychiatry has been based in the medical model of treating illness, involving diagnosing diseases or conditions, and measuring the reduction of symptoms related to illness, following treatment. As a result, once those symptoms were no longer apparent, people would be considered ‘cured’.

More recently, however, psychologists and social scientists have started to investigate how to increase the presence of positive emotions. They consider the skills needed in reducing or relieving ‘unhappiness’ or even ‘misery’, are not necessarily the same as the skills needed for increasing things like happiness, meaningfulness, and other positive emotions. Put another way, just because someone has been able to remove feelings of depression, for example, does not mean they have automatically achieved happiness or now know how to. We have to be more deliberate in terms of helping things like happiness and other positive emotions become more present in our lives.

How do we go about this? One way is being deliberate about increasing the practice of gratitude in our lives. Gratitude has been associated with many positive outcomes for us as individuals and groups including:

• increased happiness and positive mood
• heightened life satisfaction
• being less materialistic
• being less likely to experience burnout
• better physical health
• improved sleep quality
• less fatigue
• lower levels of cellular inflammation
• improved resiliency
• aiding the development of patience, humility, and wisdom
• increased prosocial behaviours
• strengthened relationships
• may help employees’ feeling of efficacy and job satisfaction

The associated benefits are numerous as you can see. The challenge is that developing a grateful outlook does not come naturally to most people. It will take some hard work. But the benefits can be lasting if we do put in the work. Here are some ways to help you achieve this:

1) Keep a Gratitude journal: A leading Psychologist in the field of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, showed through his studies, that taking time out at the end of every day to write down least 3 things that went well that day, or 3 things that you are grateful for today, goes a long way to increased feelings of well-being and happiness, sometimes many months later.

2) Write a Gratitude Letter: Think about someone who did something significant for you in our life, whom you feel you never adequately thanked for their kind deed. Write a detailed letter in which you offer your unreserved appreciation for what they did, how it has continued to impact your life, and how you reflect on the benefits this has allowed you to enjoy to this day. Then arrange to meet with this person and read the letter to them, and allow them a chance to respond and speak with you further. Before you leave, give them the letter to keep. Simple as that!

3) Get better at saying Thank You: Getting better at saying thank you doesn’t just mean doing it more often, it also means doing it in a more meaningful way. To avoid people feeling that your gratitude is not genuine, be specific about what that person did that you feel grateful for. For example, thanking a cashier at the supermarket for “always having a smile on your face and making me feel very special every time I shop here”, makes your appreciation so much more beneficial for both you and the receiver of your gratitude or compliment. Its far more than a cursory “thank you” that most people opt for.

4) Notice, Savour, and be Present: Life is getting busier with increasing distractions than ever before. Exercising gratitude requires a level of consciousness and mindfulness grounded in where you are, right here right now. Where ever you are reading this, there are probably things you could be thankful for. I write this on a beautiful spring day, comfortable in my office, with a lovely playlist of music, playing in my ears. It is a joy to be able to stop and take note of this, very basic pleasure. These moments are happening all the time. But they cannot be properly appreciated if we are constantly scrolling social media, aimlessly browsing the internet, or watching irrelevant videos on YouTube. Your ability to be present, to count your blessings, to notice and appreciate your surroundings, your experiences, people you are engaging with, will form the bedrock of possessing a truly grateful attitude. This is a gift to yourself, and to the world around you.

I’m a Counselling Psychologist situated in Blairgowrie, near the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, such as Rosebank and Sandton.

I work with individuals, couples, families, and small groups to address current challenges with a solution-focused approach. These challenges may include some more common complaints such as depression, and anxiety, or those trying to come to terms with trauma or bereavement.

Share This