• Saying thank you to loved ones is the most direct way to get all the amazing benefits of gratitude. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Gratitude is good for us, but there are other ways to reap the benefits without keeping a journal.
Megan Blandford

11 Jan 2017 - 10:37 AM  UPDATED 11 Jan 2017 - 10:40 AM

Gratitude is good for us – the research tells us so, and we feel the change in ourselves when we look on the brighter side of life.

But this popular message about appreciating what we have is usually mixed in with annual health advice, stressing the need for us to keep a gratitude journal to boost our mental and physical health.

It turns out that gratitude is more complex than using a diary to remind ourselves how lucky we are. And it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all emotion.

“The gratitude journal is by far the most popular route to building gratitude,” University of NSW social psychologist, Lisa A. Williams, tells SBS.

“The question is whether expressing gratitude to yourself has benefit, and the research clearly shows it does.

“But some experimental work has shown that you get greater interpersonal benefits of gratitude when you express it to other people.”

Williams says that gratitude isn’t necessarily a clear pathway to better health, but it can build our interpersonal relationships, which in turn gives us positive mental and physical health outcomes.

“That’s a more expansive way to garner the benefits of gratitude, because just like any other emotion there are parts of it that have to do with feeling the emotion and parts of it that have to do with expressing the emotion,” Williams explains.

“If we keep gratitude to ourselves, we’re curtailing the potential benefits of it.”

That’s not to say that gratitude journals aren’t a good avenue for many people; they are. “I don’t think that gratitude journals are harmful, I just think they don’t encompass the full range of benefits that you might get from trying to build a more grateful disposition,” says Williams.

Ultimately, it’s about taking the time to notice the positive parts of your life and feel grateful for them – and however you go about doing that is good for you. “It needs to be a fit between your disposition and the activity you’re trying, so if keeping a journal is an extremely foreign idea and a bad fit, there are other routes to gratitude that you might align better with,” she says.

“If we keep gratitude to ourselves, we’re curtailing the potential benefits of it.”

There are lots of ways to practise gratitude without keeping a journal, including:

1.    Write gratitude letters

Write a note of gratitude towards someone you haven’t previously thanked for something. You can stop there or you can deliver the letter, which can give you more benefit but can be difficult to do.

2.    Give a gift

Japanese culture traditionally shows gratitude consistently with a bow. However, there is also a strong tradition of gift-giving: gifts are offered as a way of saying thank you and showing gratitude in many situations.

3.    Say thank you

Sounds easy, but we don’t often take the time to express our sincere thanks (in a way that’s deeply felt, not just polite) to our friends, partner and family. This is, Williams argues, the most direct way to get all the amazing benefits of gratitude.

4. Be mindful

While making gratitude a habit can make it feel like another task to be completed, being conscious of the positive aspects of your life and stopping to engage in gratitude can be great for your health.

5. Feel it

In Indian culture, saying thank you is a formal saying that is reserved for strangers. Instead, feeling gratitude and perhaps giving a nod of the head is sufficient and considered heartfelt.

6.    Talk about it over dinner

Research has shown many benefits to sharing dinnertime conversations with your partner or family, and this can be a great time to throw gratitude into the mix. Chat about what you feel grateful for and what went well in your day; however bad the day’s been, there’s always something positive that’s worth noticing.


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