It takes no great leap of faith to believe that an attitude of gratitude is beneficial to your psyche and, with a little further thought, also to your physical health. The common line of reasoning is that, since gratitude is a positive emotion, it would make you feel happier, probably by producing “feel-good” hormones, like endorphins, which have also been shown to have real health benefits.
Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on just our reasoning power. We actually have some scientific proof of the benefits of gratitude. One notable study was done by the psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, leading gratitude researchers.
In a ten-week study, these researchers found that those who journaled about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than those who wrote about irritations or just the details of their day. I want to highlight one particular finding of this study: the people journaling about gratitude also exercised more and had fewer visits to doctors than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
So, here’s the take-away: maybe enacting a daily gratitude journal would be a great way to jump-start some of the other healthy habits you have been meaning to put into motion, but just haven’t been able to get off the starting block. Say “YES”!
As reported in Psychology Today, Forbes and Time, here are 7 scientifically proven benefits of practicing gratitude:
- Improved relationships. Turns out, just the simple act of saying, “thank you” can improve relationships all around. (Again, mom was right!)
- Improved 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.
- Improved emotional health. Studies done by Dr. Emmons reported reduced toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, frustration and regret. Increases in happiness and reductions in depression were also associated with gratitude.
- Improved empathy and reduced aggression. According to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky, participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to seek revenge and had higher levels of empathy for others.
- Improved sleep. Participants who wrote in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes before bed time reported improved sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.
- Improved self-esteem. Various studies have reported that gratitude increases self-esteem and reduces social comparisons (a.k.a. the social media problems headlining the news about children today).
- Reduced stress and PTSD. Research has long shown that gratitude reduces stress, but it may also play a star role in recovering from trauma. According to one study (published in Behavior Research and Therapy), war veterans with higher levels of gratitude exhibited lower incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Another study found that resilience following extreme trauma was heavily associated with an attitude of gratitude (published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).
This is all well and good, but what if you just didn’t grow up experiencing much gratitude and it doesn’t come naturally to you? How do you become a more grateful person and make gratitude more of a benefit to your long term health picture? Well, gratitude is just like any other habit. You have to treat it like a muscle. Practice, practice, practice. Consistency is the key. I always stress, with any habit you are trying to incorporate into your life, consistency has much more effect than intensity or duration.
If you practice gratitude for an hour every day for three weeks, then abandon the practice, how much will that short-lived practice affect your life in years to come? That’s right – probably not much. Conversely, let’s say you practice gratitude for five minutes every day for the next three years. Will such a tiny change improve your health outcome? Believe it or not, a small time commitment, done diligently, with intention and consistently for years, has the potential to improve your experience of life, and therefore your health outlook … probably more than you think.
Here’s three steps to help you incorporate gratitude into your life and reap the health and happiness benefits:
- Start a Gratitude Journal. Write down three things you are grateful for every night before going to sleep.
- Every time you find yourself thinking about something irritating or depressing, remind yourself of something you are grateful for or appreciate about your life situation.
- Every day make a conscious habit of stopping a minute to thank someone or tell someone what you appreciate about them.
If you incorporate these three habits into your daily life, you are sure to improve your outlook, your level of satisfaction with your life and also your health and well-being. What have you got to lose? Give it a try. But don’t wait. Take action right now. No, I mean RIGHT NOW.
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