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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

Can Gratitude Make Us Happy?

According to Robert A. Emmons in his book Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier,

A prevailing sentiment in both classical and popular writings on happiness is that an effective approach for maximising one’s contentment is to be consciously grateful for one’s blessings

In simple terms this means if you want to be happy and content, practice counting your blessings.

I am currently teaching a five-week Stress Management Course specifically aimed at parents. The purpose of the course is to help develop a greater sense of awareness when it comes to the causes of stress as well as to develop key strategies to eliminate the majority of stress from your life. We’ve looked at The Anatomy of Stress, Wellbeing, PERMA and Sleep as well as examining how our experience of a stress-triggers determines how stressful something will be. This week we also looked at Gratitude.

I think this subject is especially relevant at the moment as many people in Ireland are expressing immense gratitude for the help and support they received in their communities over the past week, when we had one of the biggest snowstorms in over 36 years. People are overwhelmed by the kindness they received from those who cleared roads with tractors, to the volunteers who transported frontline workers to and from work to maintain the opening of hospitals and nursing facilities, as well as to the staff who braved the elements to open shops and businesses. It is in times like these and in times of hardship that we often express gratitude the most and it is this level of gratitude that allows us to see these events in a better light. Expressing gratitude allows us to feel better about things when they go wrong, and it helps us reframe events so that we can see the positive. So how do you make gratitude part of your life so that you can experience it every day?

One of the simplest exercise you can do is start a Gratitude Journal. Each night before you sleep, you write down 3 – 5 things for which you are grateful. Doing it at night primes you for positivity as it is the last thing you think of before your brain gets busy pruning synapses while you sleep. I recommend that you also note down ‘why the experience happened’. For example, ‘I am grateful I was in work early. This happened because I got up early and gave myself plenty of time to get there’. This does three things. Firstly, it identifies if you were the contributing factor in the event, or thing, you are grateful for, and if you were, then you will feel a sense of empowerment knowing that you contributed to your own happiness. Secondly, it identifies if someone else was the reason for your gratitude and it helps you to appreciate people in your life more. ‘I am grateful I didn’t have to cook dinner yesterday. This happened because my husband saw that I was tired, and he did it instead’. I could extrapolate endlessly from this one as to why my husband is really great, but I’ve been grateful for him for a long time, so that’s an easy one. This is essential when it comes to maintaining goodwill towards others as well strengthening feelings of love or positivity towards the important people in your life. Lastly, it forces you to think in more detail about the things you are grateful for, which encourages you to enhance and increase your positive feelings.

The next thing to do is to use gratitude so that you begin to track for positive events throughout your day. I recommend you do this exercise first thing in the morning. When you get up as you start your day think of 3 – 5 things coming up in your day you are grateful for and ‘why’ you are grateful for them. This encourages you to think positively about your day, and also to focus on the positive rather than on things in your day that you might find more challenging. If you practice this regularly you will begin to notice more and more things for which you are grateful which also makes you notice more of the good things and diminish some of the less pleasant so that they have less hold over you, then it becomes easier to let them go and move on.

Another way to practice gratitude is to express gratitude for everything you see as you go about your day. The main thing with all of these exercises is to always think of new things. This makes it a lot of fun, especially for this exercise as you soon find yourself being grateful for the person who invented asphalt and the person who dug the road and the person who put the bulb in the traffic lights. You get the idea? I personally find expressing gratitude a great way of getting out of a funk and I will often be grateful for my headache or my sciatica pain or the fact that a client had to cancel etc. When I do this, I need to be creative in thinking why I am grateful, my headache might remind me I’m not drinking enough water, my sciatic might remind me to sit better or to uncross my legs and the cancelled client might give me time with my husband or a chance to walk the dog. The great thing is there is always a reason to be grateful.

I hope you take some time to be grateful this weekend and I’d love to see some of the things you are grateful for in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

I hope our paths cross again in future,


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