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Updated: Jun 14, 2023

When did you last notice something you were grateful for? Something small – something ordinary?

Life is full of opportunities for thanks. From the everyday actions of our friends and family, to the person behind the counter in the corner shop, to our colleagues at work. Gratitude is something we can all explore – and recent research has shown how powerful this simple practice can be.

Expressing thanks, or noticing what we are grateful for – especially if we tell the person responsible – reminds us of all the brilliant stuff that originates outside ourselves. Practicing gratitude brings us into connection: with others, with the world – with all the things that are bigger than us.

Scientific research into gratitude is relatively recent, but the results are very clear – gratitude practices can have profound and hugely wide-ranging effects. Unsurprisingly, gratitude creates feelings of optimism and happiness, as well as helping you feel more strongly bonded in your relationships. More unexpectedly, it also has physiological impacts: research suggests it can support cardiovascular health, promote better sleep, and lower stress and fatigue.

It seems that we have evolved to experience gratitude – and its roots are deeply embedded into our brains and our DNA. Neuroscientific research has found that gratitude sits in specific areas of the brain – it’s hardwired into us! And it’s much more than just a social construct. Animals even engage in ‘reciprocal altruism’ activities. Gratitude helps drive this – turning strangers into friends, an evolutionary connection with mutual help and support.

So, gratitude has a long history – but how can it impact upon daily life?

The act of experiencing and expressing gratitude and help you reduce negative emotions, combat stress, generate self-worth, promote connection and feel less isolated. On top of all this, a gratitude practice helps you let go of the need to control your environment. A sense of being out of control have spiralled for many people in the aftermath of the pandemic, and a gratitude practice is medicine for this challenging feeling.

If you’re just getting started with a gratitude practice – think in terms of the everyday. As Maya Angelou said, “This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” The more you notice small things, the more grateful you’ll feel. It’s one of the only emotions that is strengthened through expression: the more it grows, the more it grows! And both giver and receiver benefit. Win-win.

It’s worth remembering that while we can’t control everything that happens to us, one thing we can control is our reaction to it – and gratitude is a powerful tool in cultivating a balanced and generous reaction.

Find more gratitude practices in the Light app.

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