Updated: Jun 22
Most of us underestimate the power of gratitude to boost our mental wellbeing.
When I was young, I often heard the phrase ‘count your blessings’ but I certainly didn’t realise the multitude of positive effects which counting our blessings can bring, including increasing our happiness and life satisfaction.
Today I have come to believe in the power of gratitude to make a difference to our outlook on life and thereby improve mental health. When I am grateful for life, for health, for beauty and for the love that is abundant in my life, and when I focus on this gratitude and have an appreciation for what is, I cannot at the same time entertain self-pity, envy of others or negative thoughts, and this has to be supportive of my wellbeing.
But that is just my opinion.
What does the science say?
There is a sizeable amount of research to back up the claim that gratitude increases our happiness. One of the main cornerstones of positive psychology is the psychology of gratitude.
I have an interest in this area and I recently wrote a post entitled What is Positive Psychology and How Could It Change Your Life? Positive psychology starts from the premise that most people are happy most of the time and that this sense of wellbeing can be built upon. One of the areas of our lives that we can develop is the area of gratitude, and there are many reasons why we should cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’ in our lives.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Giving thanks can make you happier.
Published: November, 2011 Harvard Health Publishing - In Praise of Gratitude
There is a growing body of research which suggests that gratitude can be seen as a ‘life orientation’ in some people. in other words, for these people gratitude is not just practised when they are thankful for something done for them. Rather, their feelings of gratitude stem from noticing and being appreciative of the positive things in life (Wood et al., 2010). Other researchers refer to the existence in some people of a ‘grateful trait’ (Watkins, Woodward, Stone & Kolts, 2003).
We can all develop this attitude of gratitude and become more appreciative of the little things that are available to us every day, and what emerges from the research is that feeling gratitude is extremely powerful. There is a strong link between gratitude and happiness, and happiness is related to life satisfaction and general wellbeing. Cultivating gratitude will therefore benefit our health in a multitude of ways.
Often when I look at photographs from a certain place they bring back memories of that time, the people who were with me and the emotions I felt, which all invoke a sense of gratitude
As well as having images in our general photography collection which bring back good memories, one of the benefits of doing photography more mindfully is that it increases our sense of gratitude and, as we have seen from research, it follows that this will bring benefits to our mental health and wellbeing.
But how exactly does mindful photography help to increase our sense of gratitude?
Louie Schwartzberg, a cinematographer, suggests that the work he does with time-lapse photography can be a form of meditation. Schwartzberg states, “Nature’s beauty is a gift that cultivates appreciation and gratitude,“ and he talks about how there is a connection amongst us all, and a universal rhythm in life (Schwartzberg, 2011).
I can easily see, when I think of a typical mindful photography shoot, how this is so.
I go to my chosen area and observe my surroundings, using my senses to really be in the place and in the moment, listening to sounds and becoming aware of any smells around me as well as taking in the visual environment.
I look around for photo opportunities, assess the possibilities for landscape images, close up images, how to use different perspectives, how to vary depth of field, and so on. I consider how best to compose my image and how I can convey the emotion I feel in this place.
When I fully absorb a scene in this way, I become aware of aspects of the scene that will not be part of my photo shoot, such as the gentle swaying of flowers and grasses in the breeze, the lapping of water onto the lake shore, the twittering of birds and the buzzing of bees, the warmth of the sun on my face.
Seeing, hearing and sensing the beauty of nature produces moments of awe and wonder, moments when I can leave aside the busyness of everyday life, of ‘doing’, and spend a few moments just ‘being.’ It is in these moments, which are part of the mindful photography experience, that I feel gratitude for being alive and for all that life gives me.
Most of my mindful photography experiences are in places where I am close to nature, such as woodlands, lakeshores, near mountains or by the sea. Even when I am close to home, in a built-up environment, my mindful photography practice urges me to see beauty wherever I can, particularly to try to find beauty in the mundane.
No matter what environment I may be in, I can walk slowly, observe, listen, and appreciate what I see and hear.
Mindful walking has become recognised as a way to connect more with the world around us, so when we add a camera to that experience, we use our photography as an acknowledgment of the unique beauty that we see and that we are privileged to capture.
We begin to appreciate what is on our doorstep as well as the magnificent landscapes and beautiful places that we may be fortunate enough to visit.
In mindful nature photography we can see trees, hedges, plants and flowers with different eyes, while in urban landscapes there is an abundance of features, such as lines, shapes, texture, contrast, reflections, light and shadow, to draw our eye and extend our powers of appreciation.
When we begin to notice that which we were previously too busy to notice, we become open to hearing how our images speak to us.
Our final images are always a collaboration between ourselves and our subject. Regardless of how great our equipment may be, we are still influenced by weather, light, creation (natural or human) and time, and our interaction with each, in order to produce our final image.
When we ask ourselves what we have learned in making each image, and acknowledge our interdependence, we have a perfect opportunity to show gratitude to our subject, to show gratitude for the experience and to show gratitude for everyone and everything which had an influence over our final creation.
In mindful nature photography we can see trees, hedges, plants and flowers with different eyes
This is one in a series of blog posts relating to mindful photography. You might also like to read my previous blogs:
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