Briefly recording what you are thankful for every day is a protective factor in mental health. There is evidence that doing this leads to greater alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy – alongside less depression and stress. Those who record their ‘blessings’ appear to be more helpful to others as well as more likely to achieve their own goals. Like many findings in positive psychology the research confirms and elaborates common sense.
- Focusing on what to put into a daily journal tunes us into the positive elements of the day – we are more likely to see what we are looking out for
- It maximises awareness of the little things that can make a difference
- Helps get things in perspective
- When negative things happen it makes us realise that most of the time they don’t!
- Not having something for a while makes you appreciate what you do have.
- It shifts your mindset
- And illustrates how different thinking patterns impact on feelings about yourself and the world around you
- It seems to have a chemical boost – like taking exercise promotes serotonin. Neurological research now shows that thinking about things can have similar effects in our brain as actually doing them and that both impact on our neurotransmitters.
I decided this week to record my blessings for a while and also to share these with a friend. I just send an email every day with my three listed for the day before. This commitment means I am much more likely to do it and I have found myself just loving it! Even in just a short time my spirits have lifted and I seem to have more mental and physical energy.
Blessings come in a variety of guises. Firstly, there are the simply sensory ones:
Had lunch in a café and they made the perfect Welsh rarebit – every mouthful was a delight
Then there are the moments of connection:
Had a conversation with my hairdresser about her application for residency – it gave me a powerful insight into what this means for people
The moments of shared humanity:
Went up to see the firework display and several people made way to let the little children go in front. No-one was demanding their right to the front spot even though they got there first – kindness is uplifting.
Simple serendipity – things just going right:
We went to Sevenoaks and all the way there we just caught the bus, the tube and the train – no waiting anywhere. Very pleasing.
Aesthetic appreciation – when beauty touches your soul:
One piece of Aboriginal art was placed on the floor of the exhibition hall – I found it utterly beautiful and moving and could barely tear myself away.
The presence of those we love:
After having him seriously ill in hospital for two weeks, just sitting next to my husband on the sofa with a cup of tea watching the news gives me overwhelming moments of relief, joy and appreciation.
There are many more everyday blessings we often take for granted – being able to read (thank a teacher!), being able to put one foot in front of the other and walk, having the ability to see and to hear were for me some of the most powerful.
You hear people complaining all the time. And some of them have a right to – this exercise is not an alternative to fighting for social justice. But getting lost in focusing on how awful things are does little to change things for the better. Recording your blessings is not about being smug or self-satisfied – it is about being appreciative of what we have and therefore raising awareness of what we might do so that others can also have more blessings in their lives – even if this is just the warmth of a smile, a conversation at the bus stop or a donation to a cause.