I think we would probably all agree that people who are grateful and gracious are nice to be around.

They don’t have to be saintly. Like the rest of us, sometimes they’re cross or upset. But on the whole, they have a wonderful facility for counting their blessings and weathering life’s storms.

I’ve been thinking a great deal recently about the role of gratitude in mental health. To me, it’s an extension of everything I believe about increasing our levels of happiness. After all, individuals who recognise their good fortune and are thankful for it and for any kindness shown them, are usually glass-half-full men and women.

Naturally, it’s easier to feel gratitude when life is going well – though we probably all know adults who never seem to stop moaning no matter how lucky they get. But what is really inspiring is when people are having tough times yet nonetheless retain a sense of joy and thankfulness.

In my own clinical practice, I’ve often worked with clients going through a divorce. Obviously, they tend to feel shocked and sad and angry – particularly if they have been dumped with little explanation.

But I have always found that if we can arrive at a point where they can also feel grateful for the good parts of the past relationship. it makes for a more balanced and harmonious attitude to the whole process and can be helpful in easing tension throughout the extended family.

Someone may have been unfaithful for example, but the other partner might choose to focus on the fact that he or she is a terrific parent. Or to remember how romantic life was in the early days. Or recall the many evenings of laughter. Not everyone has a load of happy memories, it’s true, but usually there are some, if we make the effort to re-connect with them.

When it comes to widowhood, gratitude for the relationship that has now been terminated by death is a good response to grief. I know a woman who was widowed early this year and she is making it a habit to talk about her husband and keep him in the minds of friends and family with her anecdotes.

I’m well aware that she misses him dreadfully, but she is concentrating on her gratitude for the life they had together, rather than her loss. She says acting in this way is really helping her. I’m sure it is. And it’s admirable.

I know another widow who lost her husband almost 10 years ago who has not recovered well at all.

I imagine she is grateful for the relationship she had for decades, but you wouldn’t know it.

All she talks about is how awful it is without him, and she still questions why this should have happened to her.

Obviously, this poor lady is suffering but her attitude is not benefitting her or helping others to help her. Bad things happen to the best of people. That’s the harsh truth.

And there’s no law in the universe which says that anyone should be excluded from this particular fact of life. I personally feel that if she acknowledged how grateful she was for all the years she had with him, she would develop a greater sense of equanimity

By the way, do you know that there is a branch of psychological medicine called Positive Psychology? This was founded by Martin Seligman, towards the end of the 1990s and is essentially the scientific study of what makes life worth living. He has written several books on the subject. You might want to check them out. Certainly, reading his stuff 20 years ago completely changed my life and thinking.

The Positive Psychology movement has researched extensively into how gratitude can make us happier and healthier. And their studies have shown time and time again that recognising their good fortune helps people feel more positive emotions and enjoy good experiences. It also improves health, supports us as we deal with life’s reverses and assists in our ability to build strong relationships.

Another interesting report I uncovered while writing this column claimed that grateful people tend to sleep better and that if you keep a gratitude journal and write a few notes in it before you go to bed, the quality of your slumber tends to improve. So, for everyone who has struggled to sleep in the summer heat, that might be something you want to try.

Gratitude in adversity always makes me think about my own mother.

She was a formidable and feisty woman for most of her life. But she became quite sweet and gentle when, sadly, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When she told me about her condition, she said: “My brain is going to deteriorate now, but I’m very grateful that I had a good brain when I needed it.”

I was very touched by that – and proud of her. I was also thankful, because her view on the situation helped the rest of us in the family to cope with what lay ahead.