How often do you express gratitude for the things in your life? What comes to mind when you do? You might think of the obvious ones – your friends, family, career, home, and such. It’s easy to take these things for granted. We often compare our lives to others. We want what other people have – their looks, money, personality, and success.
Counting your blessings isn’t some cheesy New Age snake oil. Gratitude has many scientifically-proven benefits and doesn’t cost a dime. If you want to be happier, healthier, and more successful, try cultivating gratitude. Here’s what research says gratitude can do for you:
Gratitude will boost your health, according to research from Greater Good’s Science Center. Subjects who wrote in an online gratitude journal for two weeks saw many benefits. They had improved physical health and reported less congestion, headaches, and stomach issues.
A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found similar results. College students were assigned to write about either gratitude, stress, or a neutral topic. Participants wrote either daily or weekly for a fixed number of weeks. Researchers found that those who wrote about gratitude once a week for ten weeks were the healthiest. They also exercised more often and reported fewer symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath.
However, those who kept a gratitude journal for only two weeks saw no benefits. Researchers believe that gratitude takes time to cultivate. Its effects aren’t always immediate but may show up months later.
A study from the University of Pennsylvania tested how various positive psychology activities impacted 411 participants’ happiness. Researchers compared the results to a control task of writing about distant memories.
The most impactful assignment had participants write a letter to someone who had never been thanked enough. Subjects saw an instant boost in happiness scores. These effects lingered for an entire month.
Even five minutes of journaling and greatly enhance your life. Best-selling author Tim Ferris makes writing about gratitude part of his morning routine.
Improve Mental Health
One study found that gratitude writing benefitted college students seeking mental health counseling. The nearly 300 participants all received psychotherapy, but some were assigned to either write gratitude letters or about negative emotions. The latter two groups wrote once a week for three weeks.
The gratitude letter group reported superior mental health compared to the other two groups. What’s more surprising is that these benefits lasted twelve weeks after the assignment ended. These findings suggest that gratitude’s effects are long-lasting. Researchers also conducted brain scans on some participants and found that gratitude writers showed more medial prefrontal cortex activity.
Practicing gratitude can help you get a good night’s rest. Even those with clinical problems such as chronic pain and heart failure can benefit from experiencing gratitude. One study found that gratitude helped people fall asleep quicker, sleep longer, and have more energy during the day. Researchers hypothesized that having positive thoughts instead of negative ones during bedtime aids sleep.
The aforementioned 2003 study found that a gratitude journal can help people with neuromuscular disease sleep better. Participants who kept a three-week journal reported longer sleep and more energy when compared to the control group.
One study examined self-reported gratitude and spiritual well-being in 186 patients with asymptomatic heart failure. Participants who scored high in these areas also reported better sleep and confidence along with less depression, fatigue, and inflammation.
A follow-up study had heart failure patients keep a gratitude journal for two months in addition to usual care. Each day, they wrote about a few things they appreciated. Those patients showed greater heart health and less inflammation when compared to patients who didn’t keep a journal.
Are you a manager or supervisor? Want your team to perform better? Try these two powerful words: “thank you.”
A study from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found that appreciated employees work harder. Researchers divided college fundraisers into two groups. The first asked for donations from alumni over the phone. The second group, on a different day, listened to a pep talk from a director who thanked them for their efforts. The pep talk encouraged the second group to make 50% more calls than the first.
Saying “thank you” goes a long way in the regular world too. A study published in Emotion tested the effects of gratitude on relationships. Researchers instructed university students to comment on admission essays. Half the students then received a thank you note from the supposed mentee.
Students who received thanks were more likely to seek an ongoing relationship with the “mentee.” Those “mentees” were also perceived to have warm personalities.
Expressing gratitude also helps your loved ones. One study found people perceive grateful partners as responsive and attentive. Couples felt closer and more comfortable with each other. Once again, the effects are long-lasting. Researchers found that gratitude predicted relationship quality over six months.
Anne M. Gordon of Psychology Today says gratitude may be “the antidote for relationship failure.” She says that gratitude starts a positive cycle:
1. One partner shows gratitude.
2. The partner wants to maintain the relationship.
3. The partner works to maintain the relationship.
4. The other partner feels appreciated.
5. The other partner shows gratitude.
As you can see, this loop builds positive reinforcement in both parties. Practicing gratitude can help each person work towards a common goal of happiness.
People live such busy lives and it’s easy to take things for granted. How many people ever stop to appreciate the little things in life?
Cultivating gratitude isn’t difficult. There are many ways to do it. The most common method is a gratitude journal. You might choose to write every day or once a week. You can write anywhere between five minutes and a half-hour. Regardless of your choice, make sure you’re consistent.
Remember that gratitude isn’t something that happens overnight. Its benefits are slow, but persistent. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t feel anything right away. Building gratitude takes time, but the effort is worth the payoff.