Pallavi Pinakin writes that gratitude improves your health and wellbeing

As one year comes to an end and another is about to begin, it’s time to count our blessings. That isn’t simply a well-worn cliché – it’s also the key to a healthier, happier and more connected life…

From the world of meditation and self-care, to the arena of big business and Silicon Valley startups, gratitude has been making its presence felt in the past few years. Making space in their lives for gratefulness helps people cope with obstacles, enhance relationships, improve mental and physical health, and be happier overall.

Perhaps this is something human beings have known intuitively for centuries or even millennia. Why else have endless generations of parents and teachers reminded their young charges to ‘be grateful’ always and above all?

And why have philosophers, statesmen and scholars down the ages extolled the virtues of thankfulness?

Ancient Roman thinkers such as Cicero and Seneca viewed it as a foundational value – one that’s needed for civilisations to prosper. In modern times, icons like economist Adam Smith and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre have recognised its importance too.

The word ‘gratitude’ comes from the Latin root ‘gratus,’ which means pleasing or thankful. A publication by the Harvard Medical School defines it as such: “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible … Being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature or a higher power.”

Science has found a strong link between thankfulness and mental wellbeing. Reflecting on the good things in one’s life can have a beneficial effect on your mood and emotional health, going so far as to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression.

By shifting attention away from toxic emotions such as resentment and jealousy, gratitude helps you move into a positive state of mind. It also makes one more resilient and bolsters self-esteem.

Extending beyond mind and spirit, feelings of gratefulness also have an impact on your physical health. Various studies have shown that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, exercise more regularly and are likelier to undergo regular checkups. They also sleep better and feel more energetic.

Researcher Michael McCullough explains that feelings of gratitude act as a vital signal by making us more aware of the favours and assistance we receive from others. This awareness inspires us to demonstrate our appreciation, which in turn makes other parties more likely to help us again in the future.

By keeping the virtuous cycle going, gratitude builds and reinforces social bonds between family members, friends and colleagues.

Besides feeling gratitude, it’s also important to express it. Relationships of all stripes are strengthened by such expressions. Managers who say ‘thank you’ to team members for their contributions increase motivation and loyalty in the ranks while couples who express their appreciation for each other feel more positive about their relationship.

Here are four simple ways to give gratitude a place in your life.

JOYFUL JOURNAL Maintaining a ‘gratitude journal’ enables you to reap the benefits of gratitude every single day.

Take a few minutes every day to record what you are grateful for either in the morning or as part of your evening routine. Reflecting on gratitude as the last thing at night even helps you sleep better.

GRATEFUL NOTE In a study, people were asked to write and deliver a letter of appreciation to someone in their life whom they had never thanked properly.

The result? An instant and massive increase in the writers’ feelings of happiness (which lasted approximately a month), not to mention how elated the recipients of the letters must have felt…

You could write a gratitude letter to someone as a one-off act or make it a regular practice.

SAY ‘THANK YOU’ While writing a letter can be time-consuming, saying ‘thank you’ only takes a few moments.

Make it a point to acknowledge the contributions of people around you – be it a stranger who helped you at the supermarket, a colleague who went the extra mile or a loved one who cares for you. Depending on the person and situation, you could either say ‘thank you’ verbally or write a note of appreciation.

TRY MEDITATION Guided meditations can bring your attention to the good things in your life. Some invite you to contemplate the blessings inherent in each moment – breath, sunlight or air. Others help you to be more mindful of life’s gifts in general – e.g. good friends, a comfortable bed or aspects of work that you love.

Meditating with a focus on gratitude leaves you feeling refreshed and renewed. Many people find prayer to be similarly effective as it evokes a deep sense of awe and appreciation.