The power of gratitude

14 November 2022

So, what is gratitude?

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.

The power of giving thanks

Giving thanks, or gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness, according to much positive psychology research. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Gratitude can be expressed for the past, present, or future. Someone may be thankful for their childhood – recalling cherished memories for which they feel blessed to have experienced. Gratitude in the present focuses more on not taking things for granted and is intricately linked to mindfulness – being attentive to our thoughts and experiences as they happen. Future gratitude might be about being hopeful and optimistic about what is to come.

Neuroscience of gratitude

Gratitude is consistently related to the medial prefrontal cortex – that is the area covering the front part of the frontal lobe. This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behaviour. On a molecular level, gratitude is associated with the neuropeptide, oxytocin and with the release of dopamine and serotonin. These cerebral networks and neurotransmitters are responsible for enhanced mood, willpower, and motivation.

Simple ways to practice gratitude

According to Dr Robert Emmons, the 2 key steps for practicing are:

  • Affirm that good things that you receive.
  • Acknowledge the role other people play in providing our lives with goodness.

How to use a gratitude journal

Journaling can seem overwhelming, or that it is not worth the effort (especially if the practice is new to you), BUT there is no wrong way to journal! Here are a few tips to get started and simplify the practice.

Include the details – be specific about what it is you are grateful for. 'I'm thankful to my neighbours, Paul and Jill, who brought over lasagna the day after we came home from hospital with our baby daughter'.

Be specific - Rather than going for a lengthy list of superficial things, try and be detailed about something. Going deep has more emotional and psychological benefits than glossing over a bunch of things.

Focus on people rather than things.

See the things in your life as gifts, not things to be taken for granted. Try to write about them in this way. Try and capture the surprises in your life too – these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.

Be regular with your entries – whether that be every day, weekly or monthly. Commit to a routine. Make a commitment and honour that. Sticking to it will help make it a routine and something you look forward to.

So, ask yourself, who or what are you grateful for today?

Podcast episodes on gratitude

The Imperfects: ep 'How to write a gratitude letter' 2 September

All in the mind: 'Overcoming resentment with gratitude' 5 December 2021

The gratitude podcast: 'Louise Hay on gratitude – 5 ideas that can change your life' 23 May

TED talks daily: 'The profound power of gratitude and "living eulogies" - Andrea Driessen, 14 July

TED How to be a better human: 'How to find gratitude everyday' 21 December 2021

About the author: Leila Rahimtulla is a Perth girl, born and bred and has spent her early working life in the hospitality industry which allowed her to travel extensively. Completing an arts degree in her early 20s, Leila went on to start a career in the fashion industry, opening her own clothing store/art gallery on the vibrant Beaufort Street strip in the late 2000s. Choosing to step away from the world of high fashion after 5 years, Leila studied for her Diploma of Professional Pilates and has been teaching both group reformer and studio for the past 5 years. Leila believes in treating both the body and mind with care and understanding and takes a holistic approach to her work at Lifeline WA.  

Leila has been a Crisis Supporter for 7 years and works part time as a Wellbeing Coordinator for Lifeline WA staff and volunteers.   

When Leila isn’t working, you’re likely to find her dining out, stretching or running around after her dog, Murray and 16-month-old daughter, Harriet.