I’ve decided to write about gratitude even though I’ve written about it before. Why am I so into gratitude practices? Because there is solid science behind why they are good for our physical and mental health.
Here are 7 scientifically proven benefits from a wonderful article in Psychology Today on gratitude.
- Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship.
- Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
- Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
- Grateful people sleep. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
- Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
- Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.
I also found a wonderful research study on gratitude by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley that you may want to check out.
To end this article, I will leave you with some hands-on gratitude practises you can try which will improve your life in countless ways. Some of these I got from a wonderful audiobook called, Gratitude Daily: 21 Days to More Joy and Less Stress by Nataly Kogan.
Five Gratitude Practices to Increase Joy and Lower Stress
Practice #1: List 3 things you’re grateful for first thing in the morning and just before you go to sleep
This concept of “book-ending” your day with gratitude in the morning and before you go to sleep is based on neuroscience findings that show that our brain is the most receptive to positive suggestions when we first wake up and just before we go to sleep. In other words, we can gradually, through gratitude practices, rewire our brain from automatically thinking negative, defeating thoughts to training it to focus on the positives. This is incredibly powerful because our thoughts create our moods and thus, how we relate to everything that happens to us in a day. If we’re in a low, fearful or angry mood state, that will flavor the experience of the day. However, if we can mindfully shift our mood by changing our thoughts from negative to positive, we can have a much more enjoyable day.
Practice #2: Say “thank you” to at least one person a day and tell them specifically what you’re thankful for that they did
This is a wonderful way of spreading the joy of gratitude to those around you. The bonus? When you share your gratitude with another person, it increases their happiness and wellbeing as well as yours! It’s a win-win for both of you and it’s so easy and fast to do. An example is thanking your partner for emptying the dishwasher. This is probably something you overlook because it’s a small, daily task. But just try showing gratitude to someone else for doing an everyday task, and see how it lifts their spirits as well as your own.
Practice #3: Thank your body regularly for what it does for you
This is an incredibly important practice because we are often at war with our bodies and say mean things to it such as:
“Why have you gained weight?”
“I don’t like those wrinkles on your face”
“Why did my back go out again? I’m so frustrated with this part of my body”
This is especially powerful if you’re struggling with something going on with your body like a headache. The next time this happens to you, try thanking other parts of your body for working well. If you have a headache, you could thank your legs for their ability to walk and get you to where you need to go that day. You could also acknowledge all the parts of your body that don’t hurt like your hands and feet.
Practice #4: Name things you’re grateful for as you notice them throughout your day
This is such a powerful practice to help you shift your mood from negative to positive. This is especially powerful when you are feeling irritated and resentful. You don’t have to make grandiose statements about big things. They can be subtle and average like naming a beautiful flower in bloom you see on a walk or the sun shining. When we start with the little things that are all around us, we shift our focus to what’s good in our lives and what brings us simple pleasures. This practice brings a sense of calm and peace which feels wonderful.
Practice #5: Share gratitude lists with your friends, family, and colleagues
This is the best way to spread the benefits of gratitude that I know of. If you’re feeling good, why not help others feel good too? It’s so easy and takes so little time. I suggest that couples share five things they’re grateful for that day with each other at the dinner table before they share about their day. This starts them on a positive note and usually lessens the tendency to complain and engage in a negative spiral regarding their job or raising children. Another great one if you have children is to lie in bed with them just before they go off to sleep and ask them to name five things they’re grateful for that day. Then ask them to do the same when they wake up the next day. This is a wonderful way to counteract our natural negativity bias and teach youngsters how to focus on the positive and wire their brains for happiness.