– By Hilary Green, Staff Counselling Counsellor
As we move into 2016, lots of us will be thinking about making some changes in our lives – those tricky ‘New Year resolutions’.
This blog is about a very simple change that research suggests could make a big difference to both your mental and physical health. It’s about keeping a ‘gratitude journal’. Oh, no, I hear you say, I’ve tried to keep a diary (usually starting it up at just this time of year, in fact), and it always peters out within a few days. And anyway, isn’t gratitude just a bit, well, cheesy?
OK, firstly this will be much less demanding than keeping up a daily diary. You will, quite simply, be recording things for which you are grateful. And I’m talking about just a few points – between three and five perhaps – every few days. That’s all it takes. And cheesy? Maybe just a tad for us cynical Brits, but the research is really stacking up on the benefits.
So what are those benefits? Robert Emmons (a professor at the University of California, Davis) is a leading expert on the science of gratitude. He has the following to say about why we should start thinking about jotting down the good stuff:
“Gratitude journals and other gratitude practices often seem so simple and basic; in our studies, we often have people keep gratitude journals for just three weeks. And yet the results have been overwhelming. We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated.”
Commentators agree that you don’t have to find anything big to be grateful for, either. Noticing a particularly beautiful sunset, appreciating the kindness of a stranger at the bus stop, finishing a particular task…any of these will do just fine.
Try a journal app – the ‘Gratitude Journal’ is a very simple one. Attach the habit of completing it to another daily ritual, like cleaning your teeth. You’ll be more likely to keep it up that way.
Have a happy – and grateful! – New Year.