“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
It’s natural to get caught up in the stress and strain of daily life, now more than ever. Every day seems to bring a new question, a new worry, a new fear.
It is essential to pay attention to the news and public health advice, but it is also important to take care of yourself, particularly when it comes to stress.
One of the most powerful tools that we all have available to us is the practice of gratitude. Practicing gratitude opens the heart, relaxes the body, and brings a fresh perspective to the mind.
Even in times of deep fear and uncertainty, if we look around, there is always something or someone to be grateful for. Of course, gratitude doesn’t cancel out what is hard in our lives, but it does invite a sense of balance and reminds us of what we have.
So what is gratitude?
- Gratitude allows us to recognize the good in our lives. Focusing on and appreciating all of the good in our lives constantly reminds us of great things all around us.
- Gratitude allows us to see that sources of good are usually close by. Practicing gratitude allows us to recognize those who bring goodness into our lives and humbles us in order to give credit to those we are grateful for.
Additionally, our physical well-being is positively impacted by an increase in gratitude practices. A 2013 study found that grateful people feel fewer aches and pains and feel overall healthier.
Our emotional well-being is directly affected by an increase in gratitude. Many studies say that gratitude reduces feelings of envy, frustration and other toxic feelings that, in turn, increase our overall happiness and reduce depression. The reduction of negativity clears our minds to allow us to take in positive feelings.
A person’s mental health is also affected by gratitude. People who engage in gratitude activities are more prone to happiness and positivity. This is because people who express and recognize gratitude become more confident and compassionate.
We reap many social benefits when we choose to engage in gratitude practices. It’s no surprise that those who express gratitude develop more friendships because people are usually more attracted to positive people. A greater appreciation for others is also an attractive trait since people inherently love to feel praised and acknowledged.
Here are some of the many benefits of practicing gratitude:
- Gratitude reduces symptoms of depression. Scientists say that these techniques shift our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones, elicit a surge of feel good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and build enduring personal connections.
- Gratitude lowers blood pressure. Gratitude practice has been proven to reduce heart inflammation, improve heart rhythm, promote lower blood pressure, and steady blood-sugar levels in patients predisposed to heart disease.
- Gratitude improves sleep. Count blessings, not sheep. Research in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research has found that feeling grateful helps people sleep better and longer. That’s likely because you have more positive thoughts before you go to sleep, which may soothe the nervous system.
- Gratitude increases the prevalence of physical activity. Researchers found that those who kept gratitude journals were more likely to exercise. This is because gratitude gives us a more positive disposition and motivates us to pursue positive pursuits.
- Gratitude increases long-term happiness. Feeling and expressing gratitude turns our mental focus to the positive, which compensates for our brain's natural tendency to focus on threats, worries and negative aspects of life. As such, gratitude creates positive emotions, like joy, love and contentment, which research shows can undo the grip of negative emotions like anxiety. Fostering gratitude can also broaden your mind and create positive cycles of thinking and behaving in healthy, positive ways.
- Gratitude reduces envy. 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 can appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
- Gratitude increases life satisfaction. Gratitude and happiness are always strongly correlated. A possible theory is that gratitude moves people to experience more positive emotions, to thoroughly enjoy the good experiences, better their health, face adversity, and develop and maintain relationships of strength, which in turn makes us happier.
- Gratitude makes us more optimistic. The more practice we give our brains at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mindset. Think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened. The more of an effort we make to feel gratitude each day, the more the feelings will come to us spontaneously in the future.
- Gratitude boosts self-esteem. When we realize that there are so many reasons to be grateful, our self-esteem elevates. When we feel good about ourselves and happy with who we are, we will find that this attitude also raises how we view our own lives and the world around us. Expressing gratitude regularly boosts our self-esteem, which in turn improves our quality of living.
- Gratitude increases selflessness. Selfless acts bring lasting happiness. A single selfless act weakens our sense of separation with the world around you. It creates a mental shift toward increased connectedness and eases feelings of loneliness and anxiety. And as with selfish behavior, selfless behavior creates a positive feedback loop: selflessness drives us to be more selfless, which in turn makes us-and the people around us-happier.
- Gratitude improves decision-making. It’s not entirely clear why feeling more grateful increases patience, but it may simply be that gratitude is an emotional counterbalance to selfishness. When we focus on what is already worthwhile in our lives -- instead of what we think we are missing -- our decision-making skills rapidly improve. Filtering decisions through a gratitude-centered perspective is important for making better decisions. We are simply more patient and less prone to reactivity when we are grounded in gratitude.
- Gratitude makes us more resilient. Gratitude fosters adaptive coping mechanisms. By managing positive emotions like satisfaction, happiness, and pleasure, gratitude enhances our emotional resilience and builds our inner strength to combat stress.
- Gratitude makes us more well-liked by others. It’s intuitive to think that gratitude makes the recipient feel better, but it actually improves the relationship for both parties. When people feel grateful for something that someone has done for them, they may be more motivated to build a relationship with this person. Gratitude helps to reinforce other people’s good deeds and to jump-start mutually cooperative relationships.
- Gratitude improves and strengthens romantic, platonic and familial relationships. When we feel and express gratitude, it can cause a chain reaction of reciprocal good deeds which reinforces feelings of appreciation between those in the relationship. Gratitude enriches through a desire to return the kindness. It demonstrates care, fosters resilience in the relationship, and encourages those in the relationship to willingly increase their acts of support.
- Gratitude strengthens feelings of work fulfillment. When employees feel gratitude in the workplace, they are more likely to experience increased productivity and well-being, and avoid dishonest behavior.
Gratitude is a wonderful feeling with real health benefits! You really have so much to gain and nothing to lose when it comes to sharing and verbalizing the gratitude you have for yourself, your loved ones and your community.