Children's Mental Health Week 2017 | Highlight on Gratitude
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Ok, I do bang on about gratitude quite a bit, but really, it's such a simple and effective tool for wellbeing and mental health, why wouldn't I? Don't take my word for it - this has been researched quite a lot.
Why practise gratitude?
When you deliberately focus on being grateful for events and people in your life, you can improve your happiness and your resilience. There has been much research into how carrying out specific gratitude activities can improve happiness and reduce depression. Expressing gratitude is therefore an essential and very simple tool to maintain good mental health.
Gratitude also allows you to go beyond yourself and benefit your community and wider society, as gratitude makes us aware that we are not the only cause of our own success; this awareness means we're more likely to want to 'give back'. Focusing too much on material possessions can have negative effects, particularly in young people, causing anxiety, depression and poor academic attainment. Gratitude can lead to higher grades, better life satisfaction, better relationships and lower levels of depression. Focusing on what you have rather than what you don't have allows you to appreciate life and its big and little moments more.
The down-side of gratitude
It is important to recognise that sometimes (especially culturally in the UK more so than in the US, for example), gratitude can include negative emotions, such as feeling indebted to someone, feeling a sense of obligation or guilt, and perhaps some awkwardness and embarrassment. It's ok to feel these things if you're not used to practising gratitude. Simply acknowledge the feelings and know that, the more you practice being grateful, the more these feelings will go away and you will reap the benefits of gratitude.
Different types of gratitude
- You might be grateful to a professional person (e.g. a doctor, a nurse, a teacher) when they have helped you as part of their job. People are often grateful when such a person is 'just doing their job', but tend to be particularly grateful when that person has 'gone the extra mile' for them.
- You can be grateful to people you've never met, when what they did has an impact years later (e.g. when we remember fallen soldiers on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, we are grateful that they gave their lives for our freedom and safety, or we may be grateful to past political figures for having created long-lasting change and improvement in society).
- You can also feel gratitude that isn't directed towards a specific person, but rather a wider appreciation of circumstances or events, such as feeling gratitude for the beauty of nature itself, or of a glorious rainbow on a rainy day.
- Although we usually focus our gratitude on positive events, it is also possible to be grateful for negative events (for example because of how they've made us stronger, or because of what we have learnt from them). Gratitude can therefore be incredibly powerful in overcoming difficulties in life.
Ways to practise gratitude
Say 'Thank You' to people...and mean it. There are many occasions every day when we say 'Thank you'; to someone who opens a door for us, or makes us a cup of tea, or pays us a compliment. Smile and say those two little words. Mean them. It is simple yet very powerful.
There are also scientifically 'validated' (proved to work) things you can do, for example:
- Gratitude letter: Over the course of a week, write and then deliver (in person) a letter thanking someone who has been kind to you but that you hadn't properly thanked before.
- 'three good things': Every evening for a week, write down three good things that happened that day and why they were good.
Whichever way you practise gratitude, make it part of your daily life and you are likely to reap wonderful benefits. Good mental health, like physical health, requires a little bit of work, but it doesn't have to be a chore. These activities are not only good for you, they feel good, too!
This article was originally posted on the RWS website on 7th February 2017.
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