For at least 2000 years ancient scholars and philosophers recognized the value of practicing gratitude in humans’ daily lives. The Benefits In Gratitude practice are many and diverse. For example, Roman philosopher Cicero believed that gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others, according to Wikiquote.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. Practicing gratefulness turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend,
Brainy Quote Melody Beattie, American Writer . . . .a bad experience into good. . . .
Gratitude makes sense of our past, but we shouldn’t dwell on the past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Self-esteem and feeling good about yourself is one thing, but expressing gratitude for the good things that you have is a sign that you don’t expect the world to provide for you, or everyone owes you. This is a great quote on gratitude:
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
According to the Harris Poll Happiness Index, only 1 in 3 Americans reports being not “very happy.” More than half say they’re frustrated at or by work alone. Other research, like the bmj study, suggests nearly 1 in 4 experiences no life enjoyment
at all. So, you can readily see, there is something wrong with this picture! Why are so many people so unhappy?
Science and research, like this National Institutes Of Health (NIH) study, shows that people who are grateful tend to show higher levels of well-being and happiness and they feel better about themselves and their lives, and their improved mental health and even feel good about reporting them. From a scientific perspective, gratitude is not just an action like saying “thank you”.
Gratitude is a positive emotion of self-improvement and positive change according to a 2017 Emotions Review study.
We propose and offer supportive evidence that expressing gratitude leads people to muster effort to improve themselves via increases in connectedness, elevation, humility, and specific negative states including indebtedness. Psychologists contend that gratitude is more than feeling thankful for something, it is more like a deeper appreciation for someone, or something, which produces longer lasting mental positively and well being.
Of course, studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. But most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.
said a Harvard Medical study “In Praise Of Gratitude”. Or, this Harvard Health study “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier”, where 411 participants were asked to personally write and deliver a “thank you” letter to someone who had not been properly thanked for his or her kindness in the past. All participants reported an immediate increase in happiness scores.
Other studies, like this Mayo Clinic study, have shown that focusing on the negative in times of adversity, using derogatory or critical words as you talk to yourself or others, and using “negative self-talk”, and not focusing on being grateful, can darken your mood and, much like a virus, infect not only you but the moods of those you interact with too.
Humans have what is called “negativity Bias” which is the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature such as unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions, or harmful/traumatic events, have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things. In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s behavior and cognition than something equally emotional but negative according to Wikipedia.
Consciously choosing to fill our minds with thoughts of our blessings and feeling appreciation for those blessings can change the way we feel and brighten our spirits during difficult times.
And it undoubtedly proves that gratitude is more than just a simple sentiment. Harvard Medical School describes gratitude this way…..
a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals, whether to other people, nature, or a higher power
Studies link gratitude to receiving beneficial effects on the release of mood neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine and the social bonding hormone oxytocin, reducing inflammatory cytokines, strengthening the immune system and controlling stress hormones like cortisol.
A 2015 article in the Journal Of Personality and Individual Differences, showed that higher levels of gratitude were associated with higher levels of personal well-being, greater life satisfaction, and lower levels of psychological distress. A couple of 2014 studies from the Utrecht University in the Netherlands, found that both gratitude and acts of kindness have a strong impact on positive emotions.
Living in a state of gratitude is a habit and practice that may actually change your perception of your physical health and wellbeing. Let’s look at a few examples. Expressing gratitude makes us generally healthier according to a a new 2017 National Communication Association report which explored the connection between gratitude expression and psychological and physical well-being. As one might expect, positivity begets positive results for our well-being.
Living in gratitude also significantly lowered blood pressure in 82 African-Americans with hypertension, per a 2007 American Psychological Association (APA) study. Another NIH study found practicing gratitude lowered blood sugar levels. The study showed positive psychological characteristics such as optimism, positive affect, gratitude, and related constructs may play an important role in health.
In patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D), positive psychological constructs have been associated with superior medical outcomes in practicing gratitude, including better glucose control and lower mortality rates, a 2017 Current Research In Diabetes & Obesity Journal study reviewed by the NIH found. It should be pretty obvious by the hormones that are affected, the benefits of living a life in gratitude extend much further than purely physical, although, as you can see, physical benefits are so vitally important .
Expressing gratitude to those who have given us something, whether that is out of the goodness of their hearts or in the line of duty, also helps them to feel good, and improves their self-esteem, as well.
Gratitude has been shown to improve social ties in the workplace and promotes more casual social behavior by being simply thanked more often at work which predicted better sleep, fewer headaches and healthier eating by improving nurses’ work satisfaction, found a 2019 Portland Sate University study.
It makes other people want to show gratitude too, a phenomenon known as ‘upstream reciprocity’, or what is also known as an upward spiral effect. The NIH addressed upstream reciprocity and the evolution of gratitude in this study, and proposed it would be something we all would welcome, resulting in an explosive increase of altruistic acts.
Grateful people tend to want to repay favors, and not just to the person who did them the favor but also to extend it to other people as well. Someone who is grateful is the polar opposite of the person who feels that they are owed something by the world. They have the gift of enjoying and valuing what they have, which makes them rewarding friends and companions. In other words, gratitude shows that you do not take things for granted.
It now appears that some psychologists have arrived at the same conclusion. Being mindfully grateful for our blessings and expressing gratitude has a strong correlation with increasing our personal happiness and well-being.
For example, Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and one of the leading scholars in the scientific study of gratitude, reported in a 2003 study that grateful people experience more optimism, joy, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions, and they have a deeper appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. This short video (1) goes into a brief description of being grateful by Dr. Emmons. Here is Dr. Emmons full hour lecture (2) at Biola University on “Gratitude Works.”
The gratitude group also reported fewer physical health concerns, like headaches, and spent significantly more time exercising than people in the other two groups. Another positive outcome.
According to the criteria Dr. Emmons used to calculate well-being, the people in the gratitude group were a full 25 percent happier than the participants in the other hassles group, or neutral groups. These researchers also found that by expressing gratitude for people in your life, like a friend or romantic partner, you can report higher levels of satisfaction in relationships.
The most intriguing fact to come out of this study though, was that gratitude is a skill that can be learned and nurtured, much like perfecting your Grandmother’s secret recipe. The important thing is to make a commitment to integrating gratitude into your life in a conscious and deliberate way and to make a written plan in a journal for how you’ll do that. Want to quickly improve your happiness and satisfaction with life?
Then the pen may be a mighty weapon. Researchers a Kent State University recruited students from six courses to explore the effects of writing letters of gratitude to people who had positively impacted the students’ lives. Over the course of a six-week period, students wrote one letter every two weeks with the simple ground rules that it had to be positively expressive, required some insight and reflection, were nontrivial and contained a high level of appreciation or gratitude. Quoting the study:
I saw their happiness increase after each letter, meaning the more they wrote, the better they felt.
In another University of Oregon study gratitude journaling inspires altruism through an “attitude of gratitude”. The findings that there’s more good out there when there is gratitude.
Over the past decade there has been a growing body of scientific literature linking the practice of consistent gratitude with a host of positive outcomes for our lives. A 2008 study, “The Role Of Gratitude In Developing Of Social Support, Stress, and Depression”, researchers found practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as aggression, anger, bitterness, greed, and depression.
Gratitude, however, doesn’t always come naturally. In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the things that go wrong and feel like we’re living under our own private dark cloud.
At the same time, we tend to adapt to the good things and people in our lives, taking them for granted which is our nature. You really do not know how good you have it until it’s gone. In relationships, people tend to get too comfortable and as a result become bored and complacent.
This can result in infidelity and the destruction of the relationship itself. Only until after the relationship has been ruined does this person realize the terrible, irreversible mistake they have made. At this point it is too late; this person failed to realize how fortunate they were and as a result destroyed what they loved.
As a result, we often overlook everyday beauty and goodness, like a kind gesture from a stranger, say, or the warmth of our heater on a cold morning.
It is why it is so important that we make it a priority to live our life in gratitude, and enjoying the Benefits Of Gratitude. Intentionally developing a grateful outlook helps us all recognize the good in our life and acknowledge that these things are truly “gifts” that we are fortunate to receive. So feeling and expressing gratitude helps you and those around you to feel good, and that tends to result in the good feelings being spread even further, strengthening relationships for every one.
Able To Cope With Stress and Trauma
How you deal with stress can have a big impact on your well-being. Grateful people can cope with stress in a more productive way. In one study, people who practiced gratitude were more likely to cope with stress by seeking help from others, looking for the positive in negative events, actively coping and planning.
On the other hand, people, white and American Indian adolescents who didn’t take time to live in the moment, or to “smell the roses”, and being grateful, were more likely to deal with stress by disengaging, blaming themselves, abusing substances, or being in denial, found a 2014 Substance Use and Misuse study reviewed by the NIH.
Research has shown that gender seems to play a role in practicing gratitude, as well. According to a 2009 George Mason University study men struggle with feeling gratefulness than women and are much less likely to feel and express gratitude than women.
Not only does being grateful relieve stress, it also aids with trauma experiences. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy and reviewed by the NIH, found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Quoting the NIH study:
Although preliminary, these results provide support for the further investigation of gratitude in trauma survivors.
A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for, even during the worst times of your life, fosters resilience.
Gratitude Makes You Much More Patient
Psychological scientists are very interested in human impatience, and with its connection to emotion. It’s known, for example, that sadness can make us even more impatient than we are normally. When we are depressed, we tend to make decisions that devalue future promises in favor of the here and now.
Would the opposite be true as well? In a potentially landmark study, a team of Northeastern University College of Science researchers demonstrate that feelings of gratitude automatically reduce financial impatience.
The human mind tends to devalue future rewards compared to immediate ones which is a phenomenon that often leads to favoring immediate gratification over long-term wellbeing. As a consequence, patience has long been recognized to be a virtue. And indeed, the inability to resist temptation underlies a host of problems ranging from credit card debt and inadequate savings to unhealthy eating, drug addiction and general unhappiness.
Researchers from Northeastern University has found that people who felt grateful for little, insignificant, everyday things, were more patient and better able to make sensible decisions compared to those who didn’t feel very gracious on a day-to-day basis.
Strengthen An Intimate Relationship
According to a study by the American Psychological Association, feeling grateful toward your partner, and vice versa, can improve numerous aspects of your relationship, including feelings of being connected and overall satisfaction as a couple. When you receive a gift from someone, do you have feelings of gratitude? Or do you feel obliged and burdened to reciprocate the gesture?
Not everyone experiences gratitude in response to the generosity of others, but generally, when you receive a gift from someone, do you have feelings of gratitude? Or do you feel obliged and burdened to reciprocate the gesture?
Mutual gratification is the “glue” in relationships found a 2016 American University study. Feelings of gratitude are also related to reduced materialism (wanting stuff”)and overall satisfaction with life, according to APA.
So, for a newlywed couple just getting started, this is particularly good since there’s less desire to buy things you really don’t need and spend money you don’t really have. Gratitude can also be a key ingredient in successful relationships after the “I do’s”, and especially as with couples transitioning into married life, APA found.
Then there’s the APA research that shows that when husbands expresses more gratitude for a wife’s work, the wife perceives that the division of labor is more fair. Other studies have shown, like this APA one, a very important component of strengthening a relationship and dealing with relationship concerns, functions better through gratitude for the partners that “expressed” it verbally.
Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that mentally strong people tend to pity themselves less and value others more, building self-esteem in both, even the little things like shared laughter, strengthening romantic partnerships.
When you express gratitude to yourself and those around you, people are more likely to want to engage in an ongoing relationship with you. In a study (3 studies) published in PLOS ONE, researchers asked people to rate their levels of gratitude, and attracting and building stronger relationships, and the array of discrete emotions people experience after being prompted to express or recall gratitude.
The 3 studies revealed not only greater feelings of gratitude relative to two positive emotion control conditions, but also higher levels of other socially relevant states like elevation, connectedness, and indebtedness, and found that gratitude exercises actually elicit a mixed emotional experience, one that simultaneously leads individuals to feel uplifted and indebted.
In other words, the great paradox is that when we are truly grateful and appreciative of our life as it is “now”, we send out the positive vibrations of abundance, therefore attracting in more wonderful people, prosperity and experiences. The more abundant you feel, the more abundant you become.
It shouldn’t surprise you that grateful people also build their self-esteem, building even a stronger belief that you’ve become more abundant, continuing an “upward spiral”. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance.
More Restful Sleep
A study in the Journal Of Psychosomatic Research, and reviewed by ScienceDirect, has found that feeling grateful helps people sleep better and longer. If your brain goes into overdrive before bed worrying about what might happen, focusing on the good in your life might help you get more sleep.
Those who rated higher for gratitude were able to fall asleep faster and had greater sleep quality and duration. As a result, they were also more alert during the day. Why? Grateful people are less likely to think negative and worrying thoughts when they’re falling asleep, and are more likely to think positive thoughts, the researchers write. Quoting the study:
The study is also the first to show that trait gratitude is related to sleep and to explain why this occurs, suggesting future directions for research, and novel clinical implications.
Strengthening Well Being
Experiments, like in this Springer Science study, have shown that people who partake in the “three good things” exercise, which, as the name suggests, prompts people to think of three good moments or things that happened to them “that day”, see considerable improvements in reducing depression and increasing overall happiness, sometimes in as little as a couple weeks. Being in the present allows us to experience joy, peace and calm. As all worries are about future anticipated events and sadness and pain comes from memories.
Another Sciencedirect study found a strong connection between gratitude and a healthy well being and reducing negative feelings and even depression. According to a Harvard Medical School study,
Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Expressing gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build stronger relationships.
Benefits Your Heart
According to a 2015 NIH “The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients” study, realizing what you should be grateful for and actually writing it down, is good for your heart. Researchers recruited 186 heart failure patients who weren’t yet experiencing symptoms, such as shortness of breath or fatigue. After having the patients complete a set of psychological questionnaires, they found that gratitude was associated with less inflammation, which is a factor that can speed up the progression of heart failure.
The study further revealed after the heart patients kept a gratitude journal for 8 weeks, not only did their inflammation remain less, but also experienced healthier heart rhythms. In addition, the study group were also sleeping better and had improved well-being, which could be how gratitude indirectly improves heart health.
Makes One Less Aggressive Or Revengful
Grateful people are more likely to behave in a “pro-social” manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University Of Kentucky “Gratitude As An Antidote To Aggression”. According to Psychology Professor at UK, Dr. Nathan DeWall, grateful people are not just kinder, they are also less aggressive, too.
Dr. DeWall conducted five studies on gratitude, in which he conducted cross-sectional, longitudinal, experience sampling, and experimental studies with more than 900 undergraduate students to show that gratitude is linked to lower aggression, and as a trait and as a fleeting mood, discovering that giving thanks lowers daily aggression, hurt feelings and overall sensitivity. Quoting Dr. DeWall:
If you count your blessings, you’re more likely to empathize with other people,” said the researcher who is more well-known for studying factors that increased aggression. “More emphathetic people are less aggressive.
How To Become Grateful?
Now that we’ve covered the incredible Benefits In Gratitude, your next thought should be, how do I do that? How do I become a grateful person? Read “Meaning In Gratitude” which covers all the simple, every-day things you can practice in becoming a grateful person.
Just to give you an idea, being mindful and appreciate what you have, keeping a daily journal, get restful sleep, spend time with love ones and pets, and many more…….like installing a air purifier system and a water filtration system in your home to reduce the risk of harmful environmental toxins, or viruses, etc. responsible for autoimmune disorders.
Eat more fresh natural certified organic nutrient-dense foods consisting of lean finished grass-fed or free-range meats, and dairy products, cage-free brown eggs (A), wild-caught or cold-water fish such as salmon (A), fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, and edible flower seeds (A).
The fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds, hopefully you are growing in your own backyard garden. Other healthy nutrient-dense foods include whole-grains and complex carbs, natural fermented foods, fresh herbs and spices, polyunsaturated oils (extra virgin olive oil), and antioxidant drinks like espresso, and oh, dark chocolate (A).
We leave you with a short video presentation from David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar, “It’s not happiness that gives you gratitude…it’s gratitude that gives you happiness….! (3)
We hope you found this article “Benefits In Gratitude” enlightening, and should you have comments or questions, please leave them below.
(1) Greater Good Science Center Video
(2) The Table-Biola CCT Video
(3) The TED Video