The Importance of Gratitude by Dr Aidan McKiernan

Published: 09 Jan 2019

For International Thank You Day, our Principal Clinical Psychologist, Dr Aidan McKiernan shares with us the importance of gratitude and how this practice can positively improve our lives.

Fitness Light

Gratitude, simply explained is: the action of being thankful.

When we practice gratitude we shift the lens from what is lacking in our lives to focusing on what is already present and good for us. Gratitude is a strength that allows us to express thanks directly to people when a kind gesture is made.

It is also the capacity to appreciate our lives in a more general sense, which allows us to connect with the wider world around us. This practice of recognising what is good in our lives is associated with a range of benefits, such as happiness, improved physical and mental health, strong and healthy relationships and it can even reduce the effects of depression.

We now live in an ever-increasing materialistic world, where branded cars, handbags and desirable postcodes equate to the measures of success for many. Combine this with our ‘always-on’ society and the picture-perfect lives of our peers on social media and it can often seem that we’re falling short of others, resulting in feelings of inadequacy. These feelings can create a cycle where we believe others have achieved more than we have and thus negative thoughts and habits can creep in, resulting in long-term negative effects on our health, including unhappiness, insecurity and low self-esteem.

Actively practicing gratitude allows us to appreciate the lives we have and the people in it, which in turn can improve our psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of negative emotions, including envy, resentment, frustration and regret. Multiple studies have shown that the practice of gratitude effectively increases happiness, self-esteem and reduces depression.

We can all improve our practice of gratitude. The simplest change one can make is to keep a gratitude journal, a place where you can write down three things each morning that you are grateful for. This simple task not only allows us to appreciate the positive things we have in our lives, making these clear for us to see, but it helps to start our day off on a positive note.

Other behaviours include being present in the moment, taking time at the end of each day to reflect on the positive things that happened that day and practising meditation. Each of these practices will slowly change how you see the world for the better and will lighten the pressures on your shoulders, bringing more joy and happiness into your lives.

The essence of gratitude is captured nicely in the words of writer, Sarah Ban Breathnach:

“While we cry ourselves to sleep, gratitude waits patiently to console and reassure us; there is a landscape larger than the one we can see.”