"informal mindfulness" 3 minute read

The science behind gratitude

Can acknowledging what we're thankful for in the midst of a pandemic make us happier?

Positive psychologists like Martin Seligman and mindfulness teachers like Tara Brach believe that practising gratitude is an effective way to connect with meaningful memories, feel happier and be more satisfied with our lives. The scientific literature appears to confirm this. 

A meta-analysis (a study which combines the results of multiple studies and is considered to be high-quality evidence in science circles) conducted by Don Davis and colleagues in 2016 compared the results of studies that used gratitude interventions with studies that used similar strategies (like practising kindness or imagining one’s best self), alternative-activity studies (writing down hassles or writing a list) and control-only studies (measurement only) across 3 outcomes (gratitude, anxiety, psychological wellbeing). They found that gratitude interventions improved psychological wellbeing and enhanced gratitude more than control-only and alternative-activity studies. They also found that gratitude interventions worked just as well as strategies like practising kindness in improving depression, anxiety and psychological wellbeing. The authors concluded that practising gratitude appears to be a promising strategy for improving psychological wellbeing. 

image-from-rawpixel-id-404405-jpeg (1)

But those studies were then, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic now! 

Is it even possible to practice gratitude in the midst of the global crisis we’re facing? 

You might be thinking:

  • Gratitude now!? No time sorry, I should be doing something to help instead of stopping to be grateful.
  • What is there to be grateful for when our society is on the brink of collapse?
  • I just lost my job, I have nothing to be grateful for.
  • My loved one is sick, I have nothing to be grateful for.
  • I feel too guilty to practice gratitude. What about all the other people out there who have it way worse than me right now?

All of these thoughts and questions are understandable and might be making it challenging to practice gratitude right now. But historical evidence suggests it is possible to practice gratitude during a crisis and it can indeed help. 


A famous psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, used gratitude extensively to deal with and survive years of containment in Nazi concentration camps during World War 2. He wrote a book, Man’s Search for Meaning, about surviving the holocaust after losing all of his immediate family in a concentration camp. In his book, he describes practising being thankful for the most basic things he could think of, like old memories, a sunset, the fact that he was alive, that he wasn’t suffering alone. This allowed him to momentarily feel happier and satisfied, giving him the hope to go on. His story shows us that it is possible to practice gratitude, even in the midst of a crisis. 


How to cultivate gratitude today

So without downplaying the suffering many people are experiencing or the seriousness of the situation right now, can you find a moment to stop and focus on what you’re grateful for?

One way to practice gratitude is to think of things you are grateful for, say them to yourself and then write them down. Gratitude, just like mindfulness, is something we need to practice. And the more we practice the more spontaneously grateful we may become. Try to think of at least 5 things you are grateful for now. If you’re struggling to think of anything, it can help to get really fundamental. Look around you and think of things you might take for granted, like having a roof over your head, a warm bed to sleep in, running water, or even a device and the internet allowing you to read this blog.

image-from-rawpixel-id-2308921-jpeg (1)

Our Smiling Mind app has lots of gratitude meditations to help guide you in your gratitude practice. You can download the app for free and listen to one of these meditations now. 

1. Activity: Gratitude Letter / Visit (see description of this activity in the SM App under Adult Programs -> Relationships -> Relationship With Friends -> Gratitude Letter/Visit)

2. Activity: Gratitude Jar (this activity is in the new Medibank Family Program)

Make a gratitude jar for each member of the family. Whenever someone in the family does or says something you are grateful for, write this on a piece of paper and pop it in their gratitude jar (e.g. ‘Thank you for making a delicious dinner tonight’, 'Thank you for telling a joke that made me laugh', 'Thank you for hugging me' ). This is a great way to foster connection and love by simply noticing and acknowledging all the things people in your family do for you.

3. Activity: Consider what you're grateful for using your five senses:  Taste (e.g. favourite food/flavour); Smell (e.g. flower/herb/spice); Hearing (e.g. piece of music/instrument/birdsong/cat purring); Sight (e.g. colour/nature scene/loved one's face); Touch (e.g. soft toy to cuddle, mum’s hand to hold etc.) (this activity is in the new Medibank Family Program)

_55A2830 (1)

1. Meditation
: ‘Gratitude and Joy’ Meditation in Thrive Inside Program (Adult Programs). 

2. Meditation: ‘Gratitude’ Meditation in the Relationships Program under ‘Relationship with Friends’ - this meditation is specifically about cultivating gratitude for friendships (Adult Programs). 

3. Meditation: ‘Thank you!’ (Kids and Youth Programs - 3-6 Year Olds)

4. Meditation: Gratitude (Kids and Youth Programs - Mindfulness 207 Gratitude - 7-9 Year Olds/10-12 Year Olds)


Brach, T. (2013). Tap Into Your Power. Prevention, 65(1), 64–65.

Davis, D. E., Choe, E., Meyers, J., Wade, N., Varjas, K., Gifford, A., … Worthington, E. L. (2016). Thankful for the Little Things: A Meta-Analysis of Gratitude Interventions. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63(1), 20–31. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000107

Seligman M. E., Steen T. A., Park N., Peterson C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-4

Smiling Mind Team

Written by Smiling Mind Team


5 minutes with Lucy Barrat

Meet Lucy, Lucy is a teacher at Methodist Ladies College in Mallacoota and spoke to us about how she uses mindfulness in...

Mindfulness for Children, Childhood Anxiety, Schools 5 minute read

5 simple ways to get your kids into mindfulness

Mindfulness has many benefits for your mental health, which is equally as important as your physical health. 

Mindfulness for Children, Family 4 minute read

Returning to the ‘new normal’ - keeping kids calm in the classroom

The past year has been one of the most unusual and unprecedented in our lives. For little ones it can be hard to underst...

Teachers, Students, Anxiety, COVID19 2 minute read

5 tips for transitioning back to the classroom

The time has come for many parents around the country and globe to send their little ones back to school after what has ...

5 minute read
Quote of the week
“You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.”
Pema Chödrön

At home

How mindfulness can help during Coronavirus

We are living through an unprecedented and uncertain time, requiring each of us to navigate our way, as best we can, thr...

Children, Family, Parents, Anxiety 6 minute read

Dealing with the bushfire crisis at home

With images of distraught families fleeing bushfires, blackened homes, dead animals and smoke-filled skies, it's hard no...

Children, Family, Parents, Anxiety 2 minute read

4 ways to encourage mindful learning in schools

The classroom where students learn (and play) is crucial in shaping their physical, mental and social health. The facts ...

Mindfulness in Schools, Mindfulness for Children, Children, Teachers, Students, Schools 3 minute read

At Work

Staying mentally healthy when you're working from home

Working from home for an extended period of time will be new to many of us. We've compiled these some tips to make this ...

Mindfulness in the Workplace, "Workplace Mental Health, COVID19 2 minute read

6 ways to avoid burnout

Recently you may have noticed there’s been a heap of news about burnout so we thought we'd pull together a list of tips ...

Mindfulness in the Workplace, "Workplace Mental Health 4 minute read

How mindfulness helps me meet and exceed my sales targets

Today we're all under an increasing amount of stress, none more so than sales teams trying to reach targets before the e...

Mindfulness in the Workplace 3 minute read

At school

5 minutes with Lucy Barrat

Meet Lucy, Lucy is a teacher at Methodist Ladies College in Mallacoota and spoke to us about how she uses mindfulness in...

Mindfulness for Children, Childhood Anxiety, Schools 5 minute read

Why mindfulness is a journey, not a destination

Mindfulness can be a rewarding journey for both teachers and students. But like most journeys, the benefits are greater ...

Mindfulness in Schools, Teachers, Schools 3 minute read

What is the Mindfulness Curriculum and how do I teach it?

It can be tough as a teacher in the primary years to know how to teach everything in an effective and purposeful way - n...

Mindfulness in Schools, Teachers, Schools 3 minute read
Recent initiatives
Screen Shot 2020-11-16 at 3.30.05 pm

NAIDOC Week with Jack Charles