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It is likely that you have been rewarded for working hard and striving to obtain the next goal.
While pushing yourself often precedes personal growth, it can muddle the importance of being grateful for the things you already have, the goals you’ve already obtained, and the progress you’ve made in life thus far.
Like eating well and getting enough exercise, practicing gratitude is something you know you should put into practice. You know it could be beneficial. (Or else why would so many be advocating that you do it?) And yet, it seems like one more thing to add to your plate, to your already overscheduled datebook.
While it may seem as though life dictates your schedules, the truth is that you are in charge of the shape your day takes. What you engage in, how you react, and how you invest your energy are all your choice. Since you are in the driver’s seat, you may want to consider how to best balance your work and social lives with your inner world: your thoughts, feelings, and emotional well-being.
Fortunately, practicing gratitude is a great place to start. It’s free, requires little time and energy, and can be done just about anywhere. It doesn’t require a great change in lifestyle or a huge shift in mindset. (That will come with practice!)
Moreover, once you begin to reap the benefits of gratitude, it will start to feel less like a chore and more like a helpful tool that can aid in getting the most out of the one life you have. You will begin to appreciate the everyday pleasures you overlooked and the people around you whose love and support may have gone unnoticed or were taken for granted.
The benefits of being grateful can be emotional, mental, and even physical. Often when you’re feeling grateful, you’re better able to manage stress. As you’re probably well aware, when you don’t properly handle stress, your health and well-being often take a hit. Being grateful is a healthy way to combat those potentially harmful repercussions or to even prevent them altogether. Think of gratitude as a shield of armor, which can be strengthened with practice and used to protect you from the harmful effects of stress.
Additionally, gratitude allows you to see the world around you through a more positive and authentic lens. When you view everything as a gift, a transformation occurs. You’re able to more easily see the glass as half full, your attention zeros in on the positive rather than the negative, and your attitude becomes more optimistic, hopeful, and generally more pleasant.
Below are a few more of the health benefits of practicing gratitude.
According to an recent in the National Institutes of Health newsletter, cultivating daily gratitude can help you to not only better manage life’s bigger stressors, but also everyday challenges that can spike your stress levels.
In a 2008 study, researchers in England found that gratitude promotes improved stress levels (as well as decreases depression). To ensure that the findings couldn’t be attributed to personality traits, they performed a second study accounting for these traits. They found similar results to the first study, indicating a direct relationship between gratitude and stress (in addition to depression and social support).
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found a positive correlation between gratitude and sleep. For the study, researchers asked the 401 participants, 40 percent of whom reported clinically impaired sleep, to rate how often and how intensely they experience an event that makes them feel grateful as well as how frequently they have positive and negative thoughts prior to falling asleep. Additionally, they measured sleep quality and quantity, the big five personality traits (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness), and, lastly, social desirability.
After removing the effects of personality traits and social desirability, they found a relationship between gratitude and sleep quality, quantity, and duration. They also found that grateful people reported less negative and more positive thoughts prior to sleep. According to the researchers, not only do negative thoughts impair a good night’s sleep but positive thoughts, which grateful people often have prior to falling asleep, may actually improve sleep quality.
Practicing expressions of gratitude may also improve your heart health, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary and Acute Care. The researchers wanted to find out whether psychosocial resources such as gratitude, positive meaning, social support, and religion/spirituality could determine well-being in individuals with advanced heart failure.
To do so, 111 participants, all with advanced heart failure, were asked questions and completed measures to assess the above psychosocial resources as well as depressive symptoms, life satisfaction, and health-related quality of life. They collected similar data again three months later.
The researchers found that these psychosocial resources, including gratitude, could alleviate struggles of patients with advanced heart failure and positively influence their well-being and quality of life.
Gratitude is not only beneficial in romantic relationships, both it can also enhance connection and satisfaction in friendships. In 2010, researchers at Florida State University conducted three studies to test whether expressing gratitude could enhance the strength of his or her relationship.
In the first study, they found a positive correlation between participants who expressed gratitude to their partner and the shared strength of the relationship itself. In the second study, they found expressed gratitude to be a predictor of communal strength within the relationship over time. In the third study, participants who actually expressed their gratitude to a friend perceived the relationship as stronger than if they had simply thought about how grateful they were for their friend.
All three studies support the notion that when you express gratitude to loved ones, rather than keeping your gratitude to yourself, it can strengthen the bond you have with them.
In 2015, a researcher at the University of Rome conducted an online survey of 197 participants to assess the relationship between gratitude and loneliness. He found a negative correlation between the two, meaning that as gratitude increased, loneliness decreased and vice versa. He also found an association between gratitude and happiness, life satisfaction, and social desirability.
One possible explanation for the correlation between loneliness and gratitude is the latter often influences the formation of social relationships, a point that the researcher discusses in his study. Distorted thinking can discourage the development of personal relationships while an attitude of gratitude can counteract these distorted cognitions, allowing one to take full advantage of the potential relationships around him or her.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, being grateful can also make us feel happier, according to an article published by Harvard Health Publishing. The article points to multiple studies conducted by leading experts in the field of gratitude and well-being.
In one study, participants were asked to jot down a few sentences weekly on various topics. Divided into three groups, the first group wrote about things they were grateful for that week, the second group wrote down events that they found unpleasant, and the third group focused on events that happened to them with neither a positive nor negative emphasis. The group that had focused on things they were grateful for were reported feeling more optimistic and positive about their lives after 10 weeks. (They also reported fewer visits to the doctor than the second group.)
In the second study of 411 participants, the impact of numerous positive psychology interventions was put to the test. Of all the interventions, writing a thank-you note to someone expressing sincere gratitude for his or her kindness produced the highest score of happiness, an effect that was present even a month later.
Practicing gratitude can take many shapes. Below are a few ways to develop a more grateful attitude and demeanor.
If all of these benefits for expressing gratitude appeal, but you’re not sure how to get started, here are some suggestions.
Whatever tool you use to cultivate gratitude, you will undoubtedly reap the many benefits that accompany it. Not only will you see the world in a brighter light, but you’ll also enhance your emotional and mental health as well as physical health.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs