Gratitude against stress
Can you remember the last time you were genuinely grateful for someone or something? When was the last time you said “thank you” to someone from the bottom of your heart? If that was a while ago, it’s high time that you paid gratitude a little more attention.
Many people are grateful during Advent and at Christmas. It’s a time when people get together for convivial gatherings, and think about their loved ones and the gifts they plan to give. Yet this feeling doesn’t usually last long, and for many of us, this time of year is also associated with a lot of stress. Over a few days, one family meal after another must be served seamlessly, and everything must be perfect. Expectations are high. You barely have any time left over for yourself. Minutes of calm and relaxation are few and far between. And the new year is already just around the corner – and will contain huge uncertainties due to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic.
But what does all this have to do with gratitude? In this blog, you will learn whether gratitude helps with stress and whether it is possible to learn gratitude and to feel it for longer.
What is gratitude?
The Duden dictionary defines gratitude as a feeling or expression of thanks. Research differentiates between two sorts of gratitude: gratitude as a trait and gratitude as a state. People for whom gratitude is a strong trait are characterised by an awareness of life oriented towards seeing the positive in the world and being grateful for it. These people are simply more able to feel gratitude naturally. In our day-to-day lives, what we understand by gratitude is gratitude as a state. This means that it is a positive emotion, a feeling of gratitude and appreciation at a specific point in time (for example, as a reaction to support you have received). This type of gratitude is therefore changeable and can appear at any time, or not. When you feel grateful, the messenger substances dopamine and serotonin are released in your body. They contribute to making gratitude feel good.
Does gratitude help with stress?
In brief: gratitude could potentially reduce your stress. Research shows that gratitude interventions not only result in reduced stress, but could also benefit wellbeing and contentment. Regarding physical parameters, it could be shown that feeling more gratitude leads to lower blood pressure. A study on firefighters even concluded that gratitude is an independent protection factor against stress and burnout. What’s more, there are indications that gratitude helps to promote social relationships and pro-social behaviour or even improve sleep quality.
Remember: gratitude may benefit your health and wellbeing!
Can I learn to feel grateful?
“Being grateful means perceiving and appreciating the things going well in life, rather than clinging to the negative.”
− Unknown −
The good news is: yes, you can. You can learn to be grateful. When you do, it is important to concentrate on what you have and not on things that you do not possess. In addition, there are no rules about what you should be grateful for, and what not. Even the smallest things, whether material or not, can trigger a feeling of gratitude. For example, you could be grateful that the sun is shining today, or because someone important to you has sent you a text message. What are you grateful for today? Now take a little time to think about this.
Tips and practical exercises
Most of us say the little words “thank you” every day, several times a day. It became an empty phrase, or a habit, a long time ago. But does a simple thank-you release emotions in you too? This is where a certain difficulty arises. In order to get away from mere habit, to be able to feel your “thank-yous”, it is important that you are consciously aware of this “thank-you” again. When do I say thank you? And who to? How does it feel? What is my body language saying when I thank someone? Do I smile at the same time?
An exercise that has proved its worth is a gratitude journal. To keep a gratitude journal, note down the things that you are or were grateful for today on a sheet of paper, or in a notebook or exercise book. It's best to turn making entries in your journal into a ritual. Every day, write down three things you are grateful for, which will consciously turn your attention to the positive. You can decide whether you prefer to do this first thing in the morning, or in bed at night before you go to sleep. However, if you plan a definite time, you will find it easier to make gratitude into a habit.
A gratitude journal and writing things down in general (journalling) have a further benefit. For example, it could show that your sleep quality has improved or help to solve problems. You can find more information about journalling here.
It’s never too late to be grateful!
Bindrum, V. (2021, June). Dankbarkeit im Alltag - wie geht das und was bringt's? HelloBetter. https://hellobetter.de/blog/dankbarkeit/
Gallagher, S., Solano, A. C., & Liporace, M. F. (2020). State, but not trait gratitude is associated with cardiovascular responses to acute psychological stress. Physiology & behavior, 221, 1-20.
Jackowska, M., Brown, J., Ronaldson, A., & Steptoe, A. (2016). The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep. Journal of health psychology, 21(10), 2207-2217.
Jans-Beken, L., Jacobs, N., Janssens, M., Peeters, S., Reijnders, J., Lechner, L., & Lataster, J. (2020). Gratitude and health: An updated review. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(6), 743-782.
Lee, J. Y., Kim, S. Y., Bae, K. Y., Kim, J. M., Shin, I. S., Yoon, J. S., & Kim, S. W. (2018). The association of gratitude with perceived stress and burnout among male firefighters in Korea. Personality and Individual Differences, 123, 205-208.
Littlefield, C. (2021, February). Danke denken. Harvard Business manager. https://www.manager-magazin.de/harvard/selbstmanagement/wie-dankbarkeit-ihre-stimmung-sofort-verbessert-und-stress-reduziert-a-00000000-0002-0001-0000-000175199363
Newman, D. B., Gordon, A. M., & Mendes, W. B. (2021). Comparing daily physiological and psychological benefits of gratitude and optimism using a digital platform. Emotion. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0001025
O'Leary, K., & Dockray, S. (2015). The effects of two novel gratitude and mindfulness interventions on well-being. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 21(4), 243-245.
Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890-905.