Why gratitude makes a difference

In our Fresh Air Fridays sessions this month we are focusing on gratitude. It's one of our core themes and forms a foundation for wellbeing - we include an aspect of it in every session we run.

We all have a natural bias towards negativity, from an evolutionary perspective this is because we are designed to look out for threats and move away from them.

picnic bench in Barnetts wood

Why is it good to say thank you and be grateful?

This is all about building more positivity into our lives to balance the negative emotions.

Barbara Fredrickson, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina has researched emotions, particularly positive emotions for many years. Her theory, known as ‘broaden and build’ says that we need to experience positive emotions to broaden our attention on the world around us. This enables us to build resources such as knowledge, skills and social connections.

If you are interested in finding out more about her work, why not read her book ‘Positivity’ which summarises her research.

During my Fresh Air Fridays sessions, we considered what gratitude means to us and talked about whether we currently take time out of our day to practice gratitude.

Some people were new to this and others have been practicing regularly. For me, I started this regularly when I went to my first Fresh Air Fridays session over two years ago.

Prior to this, I had played with it a bit but not regularly taken time to consider what I am thankful for. I started with writing three things down that I’m grateful for every evening before I went to bed.

At first, it was hard, and I became very aware of how much I focused on the negative things that had happened each day. Looking back, the things I wrote were very simple, but I now realise that this is what gratitude is all about, it’s noticing the simple things we are thankful for.

Once I started regularly noticing the small things I was grateful for, I found myself noticing more and more things each day.

I’ve also found that it’s important to find a balance that works for me.

When I forced myself to write three things I’m grateful for every evening it became a chore rather than a pleasure, so I altered it to writing something three or four times a week. In addition, I now take a moment to think about the things I’m grateful for when I have my morning shower or when I’m out walking.

Over time, I’ve discovered that I now naturally look for things to be thankful for and it has become a much deeper and meaningful practice for me.

Sometimes I still write about the simple things in life I’m grateful for such as the sun shining, having a cup of tea and a seat on the train when I travel to London. What I’ve found now though is a deeper connection to my feelings and positive emotions.

I find that going outside helps me leave behind my internal chatter which can often be negative. I soon start to notice the environment around me which immediately changes my mood to calmer and more curious. When this happens, I have lots of ideas on what to be grateful for.

Engraved pebble with the word calm

During my Fresh Air Fridays session each of us found a pebble or other small item we could take home and use to remind us to practice gratitude. When I see my pebble, my mind returns to the outdoors and feeling of calm, this makes it easier for me to write about what I’m grateful for.

Being grateful helps us move out of the busy ‘doing’ mode we spend a lot of our lives in, to just being and considering what is positive in our lives.

It is great for reducing overwhelm and anxiety.

Read more articles on gratitude on our blog page.

written by

Corrine Thomas

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