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Cultivating Gratitude - The Benefits of Gratitude for Stress Relief

Gratitude: A Habit Worth Maintaining!

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Updated July 01, 2013

Cultivating Gratitude - The Benefits of Gratitude for Stress Relief

Cultivating gratitude means appreciating what's good in your life, and can transform your whole experience of stress.

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Have you ever noticed that some people seem to be able to maintain a relatively positive attitude regardless of what’s happening around them? Like everyone, they can appreciate the good times, but they also seem to be able to focus on the positive in the face of some pretty negative events. They see the good in difficult people, they see the opportunity in a challenging situation, and they appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss. Would you like to increase your ability to maintain a positive attitude in your life, even in the face of significant stress?

Fortunately, a positive attitude can be cultivated, with a little practice. Although we are born with specific temperamental tendencies, the brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.

While several factors go into emotional resilience and optimism, studies show that cultivating a sense of gratitude can help you maintain a more positive mood in daily life and contribute to greater emotional well-being and bring social benefits as well. Cultivating gratitude is one of the simpler routes to a greater sense of emotional well-being, higher overall life satisfaction, and a greater sense of happiness in life. People with a greater level of gratitude tend to have stronger relationships in that they appreciate their loved ones more, and their loved ones, feeling that appreciation, tend to do more to earn it. And because those who are happier, sleep better, and enjoy healthy relationships tend to be healthier, grateful people tend to be healthier people.

Fortunately, gratitude can be cultivated, and this can be accomplished in several ways. For the next few weeks, try some of the following exercises, and you should notice a significant increase in your feelings of gratitude -— you will likely find yourself noticing more positive things in your life, dwelling less on negative or stressful events and feelings of ‘lack,’ and having a greater sense of appreciation for the people and things in your life.

Make Gentle Reminders

When you notice yourself grumbling about a negative event or stressor in your life, try to think of 4 or 5 related things for which you are grateful. For example, when feeling stressed at work, try to think about several things that you like about your job. You can do the same with relationship stress, financial stress, or other daily hassles. The more you gently remind yourself of the positives, the more easily a shift toward gratitude can occur.

Be Careful With Comparisons

Many people cause themselves unnecessary stress by making comparisons. More specifically, they cause themselves stress by making the wrong comparisons. They compare themselves only to those who have more, do more, or are in some way closer to their ideals, and allow themselves to feel inferior instead of inspired. In cultivating gratitude, you have one of two options if you find yourself making such comparisons: You can either choose to compare yourself to people who have less than you (which reminds you how truly rich and lucky you are), or you can feel gratitude for having people in your life who can inspire you. Either road can lead away from stress and envy, and closer to feelings of gratitude.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

One of the best ways to cultivate gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Not only are you combining the benefits of journaling with the active adoption of a more positive mindset, you are left with a nice catalog of happy memories and a long list of things in your life for which you are grateful. (This can be wonderful to read during times when it’s more difficult to remember what these things are.) Keeping a gratitude journal is simple; see this gratitude journal article for ideas on different ways to maintain one.

Because habits are usually formed within two or three weeks, you will have to actively focus on maintaining gratitude less and less as you go, and the habit of a more positive (and less stress-inducing) attitude will be more automatic. And greater feelings of emotional well-being can be yours.

Sources:

Adler MG, Fagley NS. Appreciation: Individual Differences in Finding Value and Meaning as a Unique Predictor of Subjective Well-B eing.. Journal of Personality February 2005.

Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of personality and social psychology February 2003.

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