Gratitude Is Good for Us


We all know that saying “thank you” is good manners. But did you know that being truly grateful is actually good for your health?

Needing to give thanks and be thanked is as vital to us as needing to be respected and feeling connected to others. In fact, gratitude helps build community, experts believe, because when we appreciate the goodness we receive, we feel compelled to give back.

Establishing an actual gratitude ritual improves our outlook and even our physical health in numerous ways:

We feel happier. Robert Emmons is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and is a pioneer in the field of gratitude research. In one of his studies, subjects who wrote down one thing they were grateful for every day for just three weeks reported being 25% happier for six full months afterward. In another study, people who wrote thank-you letters to someone who had done something important for them (but were never properly thanked) reported significantly decreased symptoms of depression for as long as a month later.

We enjoy better health. A gratitude practice has been linked to improved kidney function, reduced blood pressure, a drop in stress hormone levels, and a stronger heart. This is likely because when we truly appreciate our health, we take better care of ourselves. Grateful people avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, exercise an average of 33% more, and sleep an extra 30 minutes per night.

We have more energy. In Emmons’s gratitude journal studies, participants who regularly wrote down things they felt thankful for consistently reported feeling increased vitality. (Control subjects who kept a general diary enjoyed no such increase.) No solid conclusion was reached as to why this is, but it may have to do with their increased physical health. When we feel better, we have more energy. I personally think our mental state has as much to do with it as physical health. It’s very common for people with depression to feel lethargic. On the other hand, being in a great mood is very energizing!

We’re more resilient. When we consistently appreciate kindness and the good things around us, we rewire our brains to seek out the positive in any situation, even dire ones. That makes us better at recovering from loss or trauma. “A grateful stance toward life is relatively immune to both fortune and misfortune,” Emmons says. We truly count our blessings instead of only seeing the negatives.
We are nicer. When someone expresses appreciation, the recipient experiences a surge of dopamine. When we feel good about doing good, it makes us want to do more good! So when we thank a loved one, a neighbor or a coworker, he or she feels grateful in return, and the back and forth continues. We almost can’t help but pay gratitude forward!

We improve relationships. Similarly, a large study showed that people in a partnership who felt appreciated were more likely to appreciate their partner in return, and enjoyed longer lasting relationships. If we are grateful for the things that are going well, we are calmer and less likely to fly into fight-or-flight mode when something challenging comes up. We can’t be thankful and resentful at the same time.

How to Journal

One of the best ways to experience the rewards of being grateful is to write a gratitude journal. Emmons says that recording our thoughts, whether by hand or electronically, helps us focus on them. That which we focus on grows. Here’s how to grow the goodness of gratitude:

Create a journal that’s specifically for reflecting on gratitude. Have a special notebook or a separate file/document on your computer.
Write consistently. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it does need to be at least once or twice a week.

Be a little deep. A simple list of nice thoughts is not very inspiring, and those types of journals are easy to abandon. Give some thought to what you truly appreciate, write a bit about it and really savor it.

Write freely. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. This is just for you to express your appreciation.

Think about others. This is an opportunity to think about nice things other people have done to support us. Emmons says, “It’s not all about us. This may be the most important lesson about trying to become more grateful.”

My challenge to you (and myself!) is this: in the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s start a gratitude journal. I intend to write a little each day between now and Thanksgiving (November 23) about people’s kindness and life’s gifts that I’m truly grateful for.

It doesn’t have to be much—just a sentence or two each day unless you feel particularly inspired on a day when you have more time. Are you up for it? I know it’s a busy time of year, but the benefits are many. And then we’ll have even more to be grateful for!

“Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.” —Rita Schiano

Source: “What Gratitude Can Do for You,” by Louisa Kamps, in TIME Special Edition: “Mindfulness: The New Science of Health and Happiness”


Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth Posted on November 1, 2017

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