When we compare ourselves to others it can be easy to focus on the things we have not achieved, or on the setbacks we have experienced such as failed relationships or not getting the role we applied for. It’s easy to focus on the things we regret, or the things that have gone wrong. But when we focus on regret, we tend to become more regretful,and more resentful.

In contrast, when we focus on the things we are grateful for, researchers such as Emmons find we begin to feel happier. The happiest people appear to experience gladness, joy, and contentment more frequently than the less happy. It makes sense – they are spending more time in a state of appreciation and thankfulness. Researchers have often found that those who express gratitude more frequently improve on measures of wellbeing, and get more satisfaction and enjoyment from life events. 

The research suggests that if you cultivate gratitude you just might improve your emotional wellbeing, which can you lead to:

  • Experience fewer symptoms of stress
  • Feel better about your life as a whole
  • Experience greater levels of joy and happiness
  • Feel more optimistic about the future
  • Get ill less often
  • Have more energy, enthusiasm, determination, and focus
  • Make greater progress toward achieving important personal goals
  • Sleep better
  • Enjoy closer family ties
  • Be more likely to help others and offer emotional support
  • Experience fewer symptoms of stress

Given all these benefits, it’s hard to understand why we don’t express gratitude as often as we should. Perhaps one reason is that when our lives are busy, or when we slip into a day-to-day routine,we can start to take people and things for granted, despite our best intentions. We can move away from being compassionate, and self-compassionate, and focus too much on negatives.

The good news is that, practically speaking, it’s fairly simple to express gratitude. You can write a thank you note or express your gratitude in person. And yet, even when it is this simple, often people don’t say thanks – because it feels uncomfortable.

Earlier this year, researchers asked subjects to write a note of thanks to someone and then to estimate how surprised and happy the recipient would be. They discovered that the notewriters significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why they were grateful. They also overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and they underestimated how positive recipients would feel. Perhaps that explains why we express our gratitude less often than we should.

But the good news is that writing letters of gratitude has been found to increase happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms. So today, try saying thank-you, writing a thank-you note, or writing a letter of gratitude. Notice the things you are taking for granted and move toward a mindset of appreciation. Pay attention to the little things.

What will you be grateful for today? If you are stuck for ideas, you’ll find some ideas and moments to savour below:

  1. Your health.
  2. Your partner.
  3. Drinkable water.
  4. Your pet.
  5. Not having to work in the morning/evening.
  6. Your favourite song.
  7. Good hair days –humidity is never a friend.
  8. Sharing a meal with a friend.
  9. Your strengths
  10. Access to the internet.
  11. Your co-workers help.
  12. Your room-mate cooking dinner.

Whatever you choose to be grateful for, notice how it makes you feel. Whether you practice gratitude intentionally or it comes naturally to you, spending more time in a state of appreciation and thankfulness means you are moving out of more negative mood states like anger or sadness. 

And saying or writing a thank you can change both your day, and the day of the people around you.