What do you usually do to elevate your mood? Eat ice cream? Go shopping? Book tickets to somewhere abroad? Yes, these are great, but they’re short-term solutions. Instead, have you ever tried doing something that can help you feel better over a longer period of time? What about establishing a new good habit?
One simple habit that has amazing long term benefits is practicing gratitude. Gratitude is probably one of the most overlooked methods of self-care, but it’s simple, easily accessible, and the benefits of gratitude are unmeasurable.
Imagine waking up and falling asleep with positive thoughts every single day. Sounds awesome, right?
Before implementing a new habit, it’s logical that you want to find out about its benefits. Why start with a new exercise regime if you don’t know why it's good for you? The same way, why start eating vegan if you’re not sure what makes it healthy or worthwhile?
Fortunately, you landed on the right article, as we’re going to explain and share the science-backed benefits of gratitude.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Let’s get straight to the point: what are the benefits of gratitude? Will you become healthier? More successful? Happier? A better person?
Well, the answer to all of these questions is—yes, and you’re about to see how and why.
To help you sift through all the benefits of gratitude, we figured it’s much easier if we categorize them. Research shows that these benefits can be split into five different, but somewhat overlapping groups:
Personal benefits of gratitude;
Emotional benefits of gratitude;
Social benefits of gratitude;
Career-related benefits of gratitude;
Health benefits of gratitude;
Personal Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude Makes You Optimistic and Giving
As practicing gratitude is mostly about making a change within ourselves that will further reflect on our surroundings, we’ll start with the personal benefits of gratitude.
In one of the first controlled experiments on gratitude, psychologist Martin Seligman asked 411 people to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to a person from their life who deserves it. This activity immensely increased their happiness, self-satisfaction, and future predictions scores, compared to a control group. These effects lasted for a whole month. Simply put—gratitude made them more optimistic for longer.
A 2014 research conducted on a sample of students has shown that keeping a gratitude journal on a regular basis can increase optimism between 5% and 15%.
Evidently, this means one thing: the more grateful you are, the more reasons you’ll have to be grateful for.
Moreover, a group of researchers discovered that expressing gratitude can make us less egocentric. The experiment they conducted showed that promoting gratitude as a moral virtue made the participants more likely to share, even if it came at their own expense, and even if the receiver wasn’t somebody they knew.
Gratitude Reduces Materialism
Although material means are the bare minimum necessary for survival, overestimating their value can be personally harmful. For example, materialism is consistently correlated to lower life satisfaction. Why?
Researchers suggest that this happens because they find it hard to feel grateful, which can further be related to unmet psychological and emotional needs.
Moreover, the same 2014 research cited above has shown that people who regularly practice gratitude are less materialistic and tend to be more satisfied with their lives and the material possessions they already have.
Emotional Benefits of Gratitude
So, if practicing gratitude can turn you into a more optimistic person, what does that mean on an emotional level?
Happiness and Resilience
Well, the answer is quite simple—you’ll become happier. Leading researchers on gratitude, Emmons and McCollough, discovered that keeping a gratitude journal and spending only five minutes on it per day can make you at least 10% happier in the long run. Their research is basically a confirmation of Seligman’s work.
Furthermore, the already mentioned student-sample research from 2014 showed that practicing gratitude can help reduce negative emotions, such as envy, and promote positive emotions, such as joy, serenity, interest, and hope. Practicing gratitude also enhances our self-esteem, consequently leading to higher life satisfaction and greater resilience. Being resilient means having greater capacities for dealing with difficulties in life. For example, another research conducted after the 9/11 attack showed that gratitude played a key role in building resilience among survivors.
Overall Psychological Well Being
It seems like practicing gratitude truly brings nothing but good things in one’s life. Seligman’s experiment opened up a portal for further research on positivity, and although the conclusions can vary, one thing still stands: practicing gratitude improves our overall psychological well being.
This means that all it takes to shift our mindset towards positivity is a willingness to improve our life for the better, practice, commitment, and only a couple of minutes per day.
Social Benefits of Practicing Gratitude
Let’s quickly recap: gratitude makes us happier, more balanced, and more self-confident. When we start giving off all this positivity, it affects our surroundings. How?
Gratitude Improves Our Relationships
We all know that people who are satisfied and happy are simply fun to be around. People who are grateful and positive usually have a wider social network and more friends, because they’re more likable. People tend to perceive them as reliable and warm—it’s like the law of attraction.
Not only does being grateful make us happier and attract other people, but it also helps us improve our existing relationships. A 2011 research revealed that our friendships tend to grow stronger when we express gratitude to our friends. The act of expressing gratitude makes problems more easily resolvable and mutual perception between friends becomes more positive. The same logic applies to our romantic and family relationships.
So, as we said, grateful people attract more people and have more social interactions. Though it seems logical that these same people also receive more social support, there is also a study to confirm this claim.
A research conducted in 2008 revealed that gratitude is connected to both lower levels of stress and depression and higher social support. But this connection is not accidental. Further analysis showed that expressing gratitude actually fosters social support, and, as a result, perceived stress levels and depression tend to drop.
Furthermore, gratitude promotes in-family support by lowering levels of anxiety and depression. A study showed that teens and kids with dispositional gratitudewhose parents suffered from severe illnesses were still able to find reasons to be happy and positive. This just proves that gratitude operates like a buffer that balances our internal and external lives.
Career-Related Benefits of Gratitude
Do you prefer when people at your workplace micromanage you, compete with each other, and nag all day? Or do you prefer a friendly, cooperative environment, where colleagues recognize each other’s efforts and aren’t shy to tell each other “thank you”? We assume—the latter.
All these social, personal, and emotional benefits of gratitude can make a positive impact in your workplace, as well. No matter whether you’re an employee or an employer, practicing gratitude at your workplace can have a tremendous positive impact. Here’s how.
Moreover, this positive practice tends to improve our patience and decision-making processes by shifting our focus from short-term gratifications to long-term goals. This is particularly important when it comes to work and office culture, as following short-term goals leads to confusion and chaos. On the other hand, focusing on long-term goals gives us more meaning, both in terms of workplace relationships and professional aspirations.
Gratitude Improves Work Satisfaction
Luckily, positive psychology has made an impact on career development and counseling. That’s why today we have a rich body of empirical research about traits and habits that are related to overall work satisfaction.
Recent research from 2015 revealed that gratitude is one of the most important factors that impact people’s sense of meaning at work. Grateful people seem to be the ones who end up “living their life’s purpose”, plus, they’re happier at their workplace.
But that’s not all. Implementing gratitude practice at work significantly improves employees’ mental health and reduces their perceived stress and depressive symptoms at work. Gratitude turns out to be a protective factor, which improves people’s resilience in all kinds of stressful situations.
Health Benefits of Gratitude
And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, let’s go over the health benefits of gratitude.
It can seem unbelievable, but gratitude truly does improve our health—both mental and physical. The mechanism is quite simple: as expressing gratitude reduces stress and promotes positive emotions, it changes our brain’s and body’s chemistry. This protects our vital organ systems, especially those that are stress-sensitive, such as the cardiovascular system.
In the next couple of paragraphs, we’ll describe the most important benefits of gratitude to our mental and physical health.
Gratitude Improves Mental Health
The cornerstone of mental health is high-quality sleep. People who don’t sleep well can hardly expect their other mental functions to perform at their finest. Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Or perhaps you’re the endless alarm-snoozer type?
If the answer is yes to either one (or both) of these questions, we’re happy to inform you that according to Emmons and McCollough’s research, gratitude journaling helps people sleep better. If you’d like to improve your sleeping cycles, try filling out a gratitude journal every night before going to bed. The Five Minute Journal is designed for you to take a few short minutes a day, in the morning and night, to answer five simple prompts which help you be more positive and grateful.
You’re already familiar with the fact that gratitude lowers anxiety, depression, and stress symptoms, which are also important mental health factors. In fact, everything we spoke about so far—emotional benefits, relationships, career satisfaction—these are all major mental health components, and they can all be influenced positively by practicing gratitude.
Research shows that gratitude practice enables individuals to develop an arsenal of personal strengths that can help them stay sober and productive in the long run. That’s why Narcotics Anonymous has adopted gratitude practice as one of the key components to recovery. When it comes to depression, a case study of a woman who’s adopted Buddhist teachings and practices to fight depression showed that gratitude practice was the most beneficial on her way to recovery.
Gratitude Improves Physical Health
When it comes to the benefits of gratitude on physical health, there are several layers of effects. A research from 2013 determined that grateful people have better physical health overall, measured by a number of symptoms they experience. As we mentioned above, a possible explanation for this is that gratitude lowers perceived stress levels, consequently making us stronger and healthier.
To broaden the topic further: Emmons and McCollough discovered that grateful people are also more fit.
Does this mean you should add gratitude to your diet plan?
Well, maybe. Of course, practicing gratitude won’t make you skinnier on its own, but according to their research, people who do it are more likely to exercise regularly. So, yes, when planning your diet and training plan, make sure to add five minutes for practicing gratitude, as it can be a significant boost.
The same researchers also discovered that gratitude lowers the symptoms of physical pain, while other research showed that it can help coronary patients recover faster. How is that possible? Researchers say that people who practice gratitude are more willing to take care of themselves and cut out bad habits such as smoking or eating unhealthy food. They also experience less stress which is crucial for combating coronary diseases.
How to Practice Gratitude
Now that you know all about gratitude and its marvelous benefits, it’s time to tackle the next question: how to practice gratitude? What methods are out there? Here’s a short list of suggestions.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Our favorite method of practicing gratitude is definitely journaling. To keep a gratitude journal, you need nothing more than a notebook, or a digital journal in the form of an app, if hardcopy is not your cup of tea.
When choosing a gratitude journal, you can either settle for a blank notebook, which is liberating and gives you enough space to self-reflect and express your creativity (but there’s always the risk of losing ideas on what to write), or you can choose a curated journal.
The Five Minute Journal is a simply structured, guided gratitude journal that takes only five minutes of your day, but it’s extremely helpful with shifting your mindset into a state of positivity.
It’s recommended that you keep it on your nightstand, so you can fill it out first thing in the morning and before going to sleep. Even when you don’t know what to say, no worries, it has plenty of prompts and questions you can rely on.
On the other hand, if you prefer the idea of keeping a digital gratitude journal, there’s The Five Minute Journal app. The app comes with advantages such as setting reminders, adding photos, and of course—being more sustainable!
Sounds exotic, right? While it’s common knowledge that meditation is ultra beneficial, imagine how powerful this combo can be!
Luckily, you don’t need to travel somewhere far away or pay insane amounts of money to try out this meditation—there are plenty of online resources available. All you need is a quiet space for yourself and some 10-15 minutes of your time.
For example, you can use this curated gratitude meditation exercise created by Dr. Kathi Kemper, who is the executive director of the Ohio State University College of Medicine’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness. It’s only 10 minutes long, and you can choose between an audio and a transcript.
The last method for practicing gratitude is communication with others. As we often tend to forget to express our gratitude to the people we love and appreciate the most. This means calling your mom to thank her for the nice things she’s done for you or meeting your best friend to tell them how much you’re grateful for their presence in your life.
Wrapping it Up
We’re confident that you enjoyed reading this article and learned a little something about gratitude. As you can see, cultivating gratitude can positively impact all areas of your life—from personality and emotions to relationships, work, and health. All the benefits of gratitude we talked about should be reason enough to implement this wonderful habit into your everyday life.
What are your thoughts on gratitude? Is your perspective any different after reading this article?
If you ended up here led by a desire to improve your life satisfaction, keep in mind that “the attitude of gratitude” is likely the most life-altering change you can make.
Mental health is a spectrum and languishing, the peculiar state between depression and wellbeing, is a serious risk factor. After reading this article you'll be well equipped with solid strategies to combat your feelings of emptiness.