As someone who is very interested in the way that the mind works, I am constantly looking into the different ways in which people express themselves and their thoughts. One particular expression that has been on my radar for a while is that of gratitude. Thankfulness, appreciation, recognition – whatever you want to call it – gratitude is a wonderful feeling. It is a feeling of thankfulness you have for someone or something because of what they have done to support you. And something people may not realize is that gratitude is really good for you.
The most popular ways in which people consciously address their gratitude is by writing in a journal about the things they are thankful for or just pausing to think about those things. Over the years, various research studies have tried to observe the effects that these conscious actions have on people. Some ways that gratitude improves your life are:
One major benefit is that it decreases your stress levels. In a 1998 study by McCraty and colleagues, the research participants experienced a 23% decrease in their cortisol levels through the course of the study, correlating a reduction in stress. What they had to do was practice emotional self-management techniques that promoted positive thoughts and discouraged negative thought loops (1). By having more gratitude, it seems that people are more likely to have higher mental strength, developing a stronger sense of resilience (2). In addition, having higher levels of gratitude also helps people better control their negative emotions and decrease their depression. They can minimize their anxiety and become more willing to help others (1).
Because gratitude influences a portion of the brain called the limbic system, people find it easier to fall asleep after expressing their thanks for the things in their lives. People notice that it takes them less time to fall asleep; they stay asleep longer; and their sleep feels better. Through the limbic system, the brain exerts control over multiple processes in the human body, such as emotions and sleep (1). When we feel gratitude, this feeling stimulates the release of dopamine in our brains; we are hit with a natural high. This high sensation motivates us to do more things we are grateful for (1). In addition, thankful people are more sensitive to other’s emotions and are less likely to retaliate against people when they give negative feedback. They also tend to compare themselves with others less, and instead better appreciate other people’s actions (2).
Feeling grateful can make people act more patient and present in their lives. It is thought that gratitude motivates people and makes them appreciate the value of the things around them (3). By doing this, it allows us to maintain the positive emotions we feel, rather than letting it wear off quickly (4). According to Dr. Robert Emmons, a leading authority on gratitude research, gratitude makes us more outgoing, more forgiving, and less lonely (4). This means that you are better able to communicate with your friends or significant other, fostering a sense of togetherness (1). People who feel connected are better able to maintain their relationships with other people and with themselves.
For people who feel grateful, they report having fewer bodily pains and feel healthier than other people. These people also exercise more regularly and are more likely to go through their health check ups (2). In Dr. Emmons’s research, spanning over a thousand people, he has found that grateful people generally have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure and higher resistance to stress (4). In addition, they appear to have higher levels of energy and vitality as they go about their daily lives (1).
Just simply recognizing the good in your life and giving thanks to it can significantly impact your health. It is not always going to be easy to do. However, as you continue to practice gratitude, it’ll become easier to integrate into your life.
1. Morin, Amy. “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” Psychology Today, 03 April 2019. Sussex Publishers, LLC. https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/benefits-of-gratitude-research/
2. Mindvalley Academy. “The Health Benefits of Gratitude: 6 Scientifically Proven Ways Being Grateful Rewires Your Brain + Body for Health.” Conscious Lifestyle Magazine, n.d. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude
3. Ducharme, Jamie. “7 Surprising Health Benefits of Gratitude.” Time, 20 November 2017. Time USA, LLC. https://time.com/5026174/health-benefits-of-gratitude/
4. Emmons, Robert. “Why Gratitude Is Good.” Greater Good Magazine, 16 November 2010. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good