Being grateful is more than just a “nice” notion. It is an easy, inexpensive way to improve your health! Benefits include improved health markers, increased resilience, decreased incidence of depression, and a better night’s sleep. Read on for science backed reasons to include a gratitude practice in your routines as well as some suggested practices for incorporating this healthy habit into your life!
Gratitude is good for your health.
A study published in the Journal of Spirituality in Clinical Practice and a collaborative effort between University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the University of Sterling, Scotland showed that patients who kept a gratitude journal over the eight week study period saw improved heart health markers.
According to a press release by the study author, Paul Mills, a professor of public health at UCSD, participants showed “reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they journaled.” He further concludes, “It seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart, and that gratitude journaling is an easy way to support cardiac health.”
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
Gratitude is also good for your well being.
Another researcher focused on gratitude, Robert A Emmons, PhD. from the University of California at Davis, confirms the link between gratitude and well being finding it increases happiness.
In one ten week study, three groups were asked to briefly write in a journal once a week: one group describing five things or events they were grateful for, a second group recording five annoyances from the previous week and a neutral group simply listing five events that affected them without assigning positive or negative feelings to them.
At the end, the gratitude group was found to be 25% happier than the hassled group and felt better about their lives. They also reported fewer health complaints, felt healthier and exercised 1.5 hours more per week.
Turns out sometimes more is better. A second part of the study requiring a daily (versus weekly) practice of journaling was found to lead to even greater increases in gratitude. Those recording little joys every day reported increased feelings of goodwill towards others as well.
Studies, like this one from Philip Watkins, Ph.D. a psychology professor at Eastern Washington University, show an inverse relationship between gratitude and depression meaning the more grateful you are, the less likely you will be depressed.
Gratitude helps you sleep at night.
It’s no secret poor sleep influences our health. Not just a daytime ritual, gratitude influences our sleep as well. In this study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, spending 15 minutes jotting grateful thoughts into a journal before going to sleep improved both its quality and length. It seems intuitive that negative, worrisome thoughts before bed would prevent one from drifting off to sleep. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” can keep your outlook positive and your sleep deep.
Gratitude is calming.
Grateful people are less likely to react toward others’ negativity with violence and gratitude is linked to lower inclination towards aggression. In this study at the University of Kentucky, student participants received praise or scathing feedback on their writing. When given the opportunity to retaliate, students who ranked higher on the studies’ gratitude scale showed more sensitivity and empathy to others and possessed a decreased desire to seek revenge. Less aggression means less stress in our lives and as we have discussed before, stress has damaging effects on our health.
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” ~ Maya Angelou
Gratitude creates acceptance.
Gratitude can also eliminate the need to keep up with the Joneses. Acceptance reduces the need for social comparisons and lessens resentment towards other people whom are perceived as having “more”. Grateful people are more likely to appreciate other people’s accomplishments rather than be jealous of them.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” ~ Voltaire
Gratitude makes you more resilient.
Not only can gratitude improve health and reduce stress, research also shows gratitude can help overcome trauma. This 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. Even in the worst of times, strength and resilience comes from being thankful and appreciative of the good things we experience in life.
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So how does one find ways to cultivate gratitude and stay away from the mindset of negativity on a daily basis? Develop practices that foster grateful thinking as a habit:
- Find a regular, quiet moment in your day (or evening routine, or both) to write in a journal all the things for which you are grateful.
- Keep it simple. Whenever you notice a clock displaying the time as repeated string of numbers, (2:22 pm for instance) take it as a cue to pause and express thanks for something good in your life at that moment.
- Create a visual reminder and start a gratitude jar. Keep pen and paper nearby to scribble down events, people or things you are grateful for and drop it in the jar. Seeing it fill up is a great reminder of the good in your life.
- One more opportunity to write: create thank you notes for people who impact your life and mail them or deliver them in person.
The art of gratitude is about more than feeling thankful and being healthy. In an ideal world, all this thankfulness can evolve into acts of generosity, forgiveness and compassion towards others. It can become a way of life and give you a new lens through which to view the world. To learn more about the art of gratitude beyond simply writing in a journal, check out this 8 minute video about The Power Of Gratitude by Robert Emmons. Enjoy!