It is Thanksgiving today in the US, when families and friends gather to enjoy a (hopefully healthy) meal and reflect on how grateful they are for everything they have. A good tradition indeed!
However, it is important to practice gratitude daily and not just once a year. Why? Because an attitude of gratitude carries significant health benefits!
Health Benefits of Gratitude
Research has shown that people who express positive emotions such as gratitude and appreciation regularly, activate the relaxation response and shut off the stress response among other things!.
Chronic stress is a major determinant of chronic illness. It is said that 90% of visits to the doctor are caused by stress!
1. INCREASED ENERGY
Several studies have shown a link between gratitude and a significant increase in energy and vitality.
2. BETTER SLEEP
Feeling grateful helps people sleep better and longer. This has been shown by research in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research . This is likely because “you have more positive thoughts before you go to sleep,” says Seppälä (who was not involved in the study), which may soothe the nervous system.
I would say that practicing gratitude reduces stress and cortisol levels, which reduces sympathetic activation and increases parasympathetic activation, thus improving the amount of good quality sleep.
Hence, counting your blessings, is much more effective than counting sheep!
According to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, spending just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, participants found they slept better and longer.
3. BETTER PHYSICAL HEALTH
Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they 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 also exercise more often.
In a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers asked people to rate their levels of gratitude, physical health and psychological health. They found positive correlations between gratitude and health-boosting behaviors like exercise and healthy eating, suggesting that giving thanks helps people appreciate and care for their bodies.
Gratitude is linked with less pain and fewer physical symptoms. When we are in a “thankful” mode, we release tension and “trust” the universe. Muscles release, the body can repair and rebuild again. We also make better decision, which links in with the following point…
4. BETTER PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH
Gratitude reduces toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., 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.
EMPATHY, NOT REVENGE. 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.
WILLPOWER. “Gratitude replenishes willpower” (a concept similar to patience) says Susan Peirce Thompson, a cognitive scientist specialising in the psychology of eating. Thompson claims that cultivating feelings of gratitude can boost your impulse control, helping you slow down and make better decisions. If you find yourself slipping, Thompson recommends leaving the table to jot down a quick list of things you are grateful for, as this can help you clear your mind and reset your willpower.
5. INCREASED SELF-ESTEEM
A 2014 Journal of Applied Sport Psychology study found that gratitude increased athlete’s 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, grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
6. MENTAL TOUGHNESS
Gratitude reduces stress and even helps overcome trauma.
A 2006 study 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 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 you have to be thankful for, even during the worst times of your life (such as wars), fosters resilience..
7. BETTER RELATIONSHIPS
Showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2104 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship.
According to a study in the Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, feeling grateful toward your partner (and the other way round) can improve your relationship in many ways, including feelings of connectedness and overall satisfaction as a couple.
Better social networks are in turn linked to better health, resilience and longevity.
Gratitude leads to much more sustainable forms of happiness [than cake], because it is not … immediate gratification; it’s a frame of mind, says Seppälä.
If you regularly engage in expressing gratitude and thankfulness, you are likely to see results.
HOW DOES IT WORK? (the science bit)
“Gratitude works because, as a way of perceiving and interpreting life, it recruits other positive emotions that have direct physical benefits, most likely through the immune system or endocrine system.”
Research shows that when we think about what we appreciate, the parasympathetic [calming part of the nervous system] is triggered and that can have protective benefits on the body, including decreasing cortisol [“stress”] levels and perhaps increasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone involved in relationships that make us feel so good.
This is a long list of AWESOME results for something that is FREE and takes only a few minutes a day, plus has NO nasty side-effects whatsoever!
- How often are you currently practicing gratitude?
- Would you consider starting a gratitude journal, spending 5 minutes a day thinking about and writing down the things you are grateful for in your life?
- This is a simple way to help yourself, to reduce stress and boost your yealth.
- Even if you don’t feel grateful by nature, you can learn, starting with little things. It will still benefit you immensely.
- For more ways to cultivate gratitude, see the Harvard article: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude