Gratitude is something we talk a lot about during the month of November, however it doesn’t need to be Thanksgiving for us to give thanks. In fact, science is proving that we’re actually better off if we live in thanksgiving daily (no matter what month of the year it is).
Gratitude is a virtue and a behavior that delivers big benefits in overall wellbeing and life satisfaction. In recent years, there has been an increased interest in this age old virtue because of its contribution to human flourishing. In “Harvard Health Publications,” Harvard Medical School recently posted an article “In Praise of Gratitude,” which stated, “Expressing thanks may be one of the simplest ways to feel better.”
How can gratitude make us feel better? For one thing, gratitude can inspire feelings of abundance and lead to improved health and heightened happiness. As the saying goes, “It’s not the happy people who are thankful, it’s the thankful people who are happy.”
In the past couple of decades, much research and numerous scientific studies have been conducted on and about gratitude. Research is revealing that those who practice gratitude, on a regular basis, truly do enjoy upgrades in their health and happiness. Robert Emmons, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, and his colleagues, studied the benefits of gratitude on more than one thousand people (ages 8 – 80). Dr. Emmons reported that the study led to overwhelming results: Those people who practiced simple, daily exercises in gratitude (such as keeping a gratitude journal and/or expressing gratitude to others), reported a host of health and wellness benefits, as well as improved relationships. Following are just a few of the benefits noted in that study:
Benefits of Gratitude:
Improved Physical Wellness
- Lowered blood pressure
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Took better care of health
- Exercised more
- Enjoyed longer and more refreshing sleep
Improved Psychological Wellness
- Enjoyed higher levels of positive emotions
- More pleasure and joy
- Greater optimism and happiness
- Felt more alert, alive, and awake
Improved Social Wellness
- More generous, helpful, and compassionate
- More outgoing
- Felt less lonely and isolated
- More forgiving
- Stronger relationships
With over 15 years of intense gratitude research, Dr. Emmons stated, “Gratitude has the ability to heal, energize and to transform lives and all the evidence we have points to that. Psychologically, people report greater levels of joy, happiness, wellbeing, energy, enthusiasm, attentiveness, alertness, when they practice gratitude.” Emmons reports that the benefits to social and relational wellbeing are the strongest findings of all.
Gratitude helps us to affirm the good in our lives and gives us feelings of optimism that more good is yet to come. It may not erase life’s challenges but it does increase our resilience during difficult times and give us hope for brighter days ahead.
Practicing gratitude also helps us enjoy feelings of awe and deep appreciation as we recognize that there are many sources of goodness in our lives, through which our blessings have come (friends, relatives, neighbors, community members and God). It’s a humbling and deeply satisfying feeling to note that life is better for us because of the kindness, love and sacrifices of countless others.
Since it’s a proven fact that developing your gratitude muscles can make you happier, why not exercise & develop yours by practicing gratitude intentionally? Following are a few simple hacks to increase your gratitude (and harvest all the benefits as well)!
Gratitude Exercises and Interventions:
- Express your gratitude! Research shows that expressing gratitude verbally and in writing is a more powerful way to develop gratitude than just thinking thoughts of gratitude.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Some studies encourage writing down three gratitudes per day for a minimum of 3 months. Others suggest that writing down what you’re thankful for, even just once per week is beneficial. The frequency is up to you, the important thing is to establish a regular gratitude habit and be consistent.
- Write letters of gratitude and deliver them in person (if possible). Better yet, read your gratitude letter aloud to the person you want to thank. This recommendation, from Martin Seligman Ph. D., (known as the father of Positive Psychology), is a powerful way to grow gratitude, build bonds of appreciation and positively impact the wellbeing of both parties.
- Express words of appreciation regularly to your spouse, your kids, your co-workers and friends and you’ll find that your relationships in those spaces will be much improved. Although these findings are backed by research, the best way to test them is by conducting your own scientific studies. That way you’ll enjoy the benefits first hand.
- If you’re religious, you can offer prayers of gratitude (focused on giving thanks rather than merely asking for more) as you remember that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).
- Meditation is also a beneficial exercise to help you mindfully focus in on the specific things for which you’re thankful.
- Gratitude games combine fun & laughter, strengthen social bonds and provide an opportunity to express appreciation in social settings.
- Gratitude toss” is an easy game where you toss a small ball (or bean bag) back and forth in a group of people. When the ball comes to you, name something you’re thankful for and toss the ball to the next person.
- “King or Queen for a Day” is another gratitude game. In this one players sit around in a circle while the “king” or “queen” sits in the middle. Players each take a turn expressing specific appreciation to the person seated in the center of the circle.
- You can also play Gratitude Charades or Gratitude Pictionary where you use the things you’re thankful for to act out or draw pictures of.
- Be creative – find your favorite game and give it a “gratitude twist.”
- Gratitude nature walks are a great way to count your blessings as you breathe deeply, savor, celebrate, and experience awe in your surroundings!
- Dr. Emmons recommends creating a gratitude collage (on paper or on a wall). This can be done with family photos and/or by cutting out pictures from magazines or printing up images from the internet.
- Teenagers might enjoy posting their gratitude images on their social media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Gratitude’s Super Powers:
Gratitude may not be a magic wand but it is a proven and very effective positivity tool and it packs some pretty impressive “super power” punches! Check out these super powers and discover how gratitude can totally change your life!
- Mindfulness: Gratitude can help you savor life’s experiences to the fullest extent as you learn to appreciate even the tiniest details and blessings.
- Joy: Happy memories and positive experiences are kept alive in your mind and heart through gratitude. Dr. Seligman states that “Gratitude applifies the savoring and appreciation of the good events gone by.”
- Optimism: When you stop to notice and be grateful for your life’s blessings you become more aware of all the good your life holds. This recognition can then springboard you into a more optimistic outlook for the future.
- Resilience: Through gratitude, memories of difficult experiences can be transformed into valued learning opportunities as you reflect, recognize and glean growth from challenges of the past.
- Meaningful relationships: Gratitude is about expressing “thanks” in words and actions then “paying it forward” and “sharing the love.” When you show gratitude you help others feel more loved and valued. As a bonus, the appreciation you give out almost always comes back. Gratitude can have an upward spiraling effect on your relationships, which means there’s no end to how good it can get.
- Abundance: Gratitude is the secret to an abundant life! It helps you discover, appreciate and celebrate the abundance that already exists in your life. As the popular saying goes, “The secret to having it all is believing that you do!”
The Gratitude Challenge:
As you can see, gratitude is a “feel good virtue,” one that inspires positive emotions, improves physical, mental and social wellbeing and promotes human flourishing. In the words of William Arthur Ward “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Who doesn’t want that, right?
So take the gratitude challenge, set some gratitude goals, and soon you’ll harvest an abundance of gratitude benefits and blessings (and so will others around you). Remember, gratitude has the power to make the world a better place, not just in November, but throughout the entire year!